How to Avoid Acute Diabetes Complications
1. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) with diabetes
What it is:
High blood sugar, technically known as hyperglycemia, can occur when a person's blood sugar stays too high -- typically over 180 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) -- for too long. High blood sugar is an indication that his body doesn't have enough insulin. It can happen if he skips doses of his diabetes medications, eats too much, or doesn't get enough exercise. Sometimes the medications he takes for other ailments cause high blood glucose. In addition, an infection, illness, injury, surgery, or stress can also make his blood glucose soar to harmful heights.
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Blurry vision
- More frequent infections
- Slow-healing cuts and sores
- Unexplained weight loss
How to treat it:
- Make sure the patient drinks plenty of water to avoid dehydration (and the potential for high blood sugar to spiral out of control into an emergency situation). For specific details, see our article on emergency complications such as ketoacidosis.
- If his blood glucose level is above 250 mg/dL, he should test his urine for ketones, acids that can build up in his body and cause the above-mentioned potentially life-threatening problems. Ketone test strips are available over the counter at pharmacies.
- If his blood glucose readings are routinely above his target range, he may need to start taking pills or injecting insulin, if he doesn't already. Or he may need to increase the dose of either one of these medications. Discuss these concerns with his main diabetes care provider.
How to prevent it:
- Help the patient figure out what foods may trigger a high blood-sugar reaction so he can avoid them or compensate by adjusting his medications or becoming more active.
- Check his portion control to make sure he's not eating too much. Or enlist the aid of a certified diabetes educator or registered dietitian to see if too much food is the cause of his trouble.
- Reassess his activity plan with him and his main diabetes care provider to determine if lack of exercise, or the timing of it, may be to blame.
- Make sure he isn't skipping prescribed medication doses. If he uses insulin, check to see that it's not spoiled and he's taking the correct amount.
- Clean his blood glucose meter and check to ensure it's working properly. Make sure his testing strips haven't expired and that they're calibrated for his device. Review his testing techniques with his care provider to ensure he's getting accurate readings.
- If his glucose is frequently too high or he often experiences symptoms of high blood sugar, you and he should talk with his doctor. He may need a change in his diabetes medicines, meal plan, or other aspect of his self-care regimen.