What to Do When Your Blood Sugar Is High

Monitoring and testing will help keep you in control of your high blood sugar.

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High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, happens when your body doesn't produce enough insulin, or it can't properly use the insulin it makes. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the amount of sugar that's in your blood. So, when your insulin isn't doing its job, sugar builds up. Another name for hyperglycemia is diabetes.

Many factors can cause hyperglycemia, and food isn't the only one. You could have a cold coming on, or stress from an illness or difficult situation may have temporarily boosted your blood sugar, according to the American Diabetes Foundation. Levels change throughout the day.

If you know that you have diabetes, in one of its forms, and you regularly test your blood, you will know for certain when your sugar levels are high. Physical symptoms may include frequent urination or increased thirst. If you haven't been diagnosed with high blood sugar but experience these symptoms, discuss them with your healthcare provider.

When you're levels are out of normal range, there are measures that you can take. Here's a strategy for keeping your blood sugar in balance.

Think About What's Going On

Irene Dunbar of Durham, NC woke up one morning to discover that her blood sugar was at 119, which was high for her. "I had a cold and had had orange juice yesterday, and I normally do not drink orange juice," Dunbar said, who also thought, 'I better not do that."

Sometimes, determining the cause of an elevated level may make you feel like a detective. But it's important to ask yourself questions about potential causes, such as diet and exercise habits, changes in your treatment plan, or personal life adjustments. Determining the answers to these questions can help pinpoint what might be going wrong, according to MedlinePlus.

Look for Patterns

Keeping a record of blood sugar readings may reveal patterns that can pinpoint what's causing spikes and drops. This "pattern management" means writing down results from different times over many days and looking for trends. The log, according to Baylor, Scott & White Health, should include notes about food, drinks, activity, stress, medication taken, and times you haven't felt well.

Based on your findings, you can make changes and observe their effects. You may limit carbohydrates, which turn into sugar once digested, get more exercise, or talk with your healthcare provider about adjusting your insulin (the medication that takes the place of the insulin you naturally make).

Having this information can help you and your healthcare provider figure out what works best for keeping your blood sugar in a normal, healthy range.

Test Consistently

In general, how often you will need to check your blood sugar will depend on how well your diabetes is managed. Per MedlinePlus, you may need to check your levels occasionally or multiple times a day. Testing is considered the most effective way to manage diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are many times at which you can test and methods for doing it, and your healthcare provider will help determine when is best for you, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. People test before and after meals, before bedtime, in the middle of the night, or before, during, or after exercise. Testing at different times will tell you how well your medication is working and which foods may be affecting your sugar levels.

Blood sugar monitoring is a tool that you can use to help control your diabetes, and it's the pattern—not a single reading—that matters.

Take Time To Relax

Since stress may be a trigger for high blood sugar, minimizing it is a worthy goal. "Stress and anxiety, as well as other mental problems, can also exacerbate the rising glucose level," according to an August 2019 study in Cureus.

"My blood sugar will get really wacky if I have a lot of stress," said Carol Mullen of Sandia Park, NM. "I try to avoid situations that are stressful, like serving on committees. I like to do volunteer work, but I'll do something I can do by myself."

Additionally, overeating, forgetting to take medications, or getting less sleep can all be signs of stress. Be aware of these behaviors, as they can signal that you are overwhelmed when you didn't know that you were. If you find yourself feeling anxious or worried, there are plenty of resources to explore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the CDC. You could try exercising, engaging in a new hobby, or reading a book—whatever makes you the most relaxed.

Talk With Your Healthcare Provider

If you think you've been doing all you can to keep your blood sugar in control, but your readings are still high, it may be time to switch medications, if you are taking them. Diabetes is a progressive disease, and over time, the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin can stop making the hormone altogether.

Ultimately, your healthcare provider will look at the full picture and do additional testing to find out if there is a bigger problem.

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