Why You May Be Experiencing High Blood Sugar

High blood sugar is part of a life with diabetes, whether it’s type 1type 2LADA, gestational diabetes, even the more rare forms of the disease. But sometimes, hyperglycemia can seem unexplainable, persistent, and stubborn.

This article will outline the reasons why you may be experiencing high blood sugar, and what you can do about it.

What Exactly Happens When Blood Sugar Is High?

High blood sugar, by definition, is when there’s too much glucose in the blood and not enough insulin to help the cells digest it. That extra glucose floating around in the bloodstream is what brings about symptoms of frequent urination, fatigue, brain fog, headache, body ache. In severe cases, it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

People with diabetes manage their blood sugars by taking either oral medications or insulin, and monitoring both their food intake and exercise on a daily basis.

But even when you’ve done everything “right,” like counting carbohydrates and taking your medications, your blood sugar may rise and stay annoyingly (or dangerously) high. These are the top reasons why you may be experiencing unexplainable hyperglycemia.

You’re Stressed

Ever wonder why when you’re stressed about work or school your blood stays high? That’s because the release of natural hormones in your body, like adrenaline and cortisol, spike when you’re stressed, leading to insulin resistance, and in people with existing diabetes, high blood sugars. Whether you’re prepping for a big test, selling your home, hustling for that promotion at work, or fighting with your spouse, stress can send your blood sugars skyrocketing.

Dawn Phenomenon

Dawn Phenomenon describes the high blood sugars and insulin resistance people experience in the morning, usually between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. 

The phenomenon is natural: late overnight, the body releases a surge of hormones in preparation for the new day. These hormones can trigger the liver to dump glucose into the bloodstream. In people with diabetes, the body cannot produce a healthy insulin response, and therefore blood glucose levels spike up.

Many people with diabetes require more insulin during those hours, maybe even twice as much, to counteract this age-old hormonal effect.

A different, less common (but more dangerous) phenomenon may also explain morning blood sugar highs: Somogyi effect.

You’re Sick

When people with diabetes are under the weather (or fighting off an infection), their blood sugars tend to be much higher than normal, and they become much more insulin-resistant.

This can sometimes result in needing 75% (or more!) of your average daily insulin requirements. Make sure you’re staying hydrated, monitoring for ketones, and taking as much insulin as you need to keep your blood sugars in range.

If you cannot control your blood sugars during illness – especially if you’re having trouble eating or drinking – it’s very important to get in touch with your doctor.

You’re Eating Too Many Carbs

Let’s face it: carbohydrates spike blood sugar. It’s something that people with diabetes need to think about nearly every time they eat.

Test your blood sugar frequently to see how your own body responds to different foods. Some people may find that they can comfortably eat fresh fruit, but not added sugars or white rice. Some may find something completely different.

And if you use insulin before meals, you probably already know that carbohydrate counting can be an inexact science. The more carbs you eat, the more insulin you need to take, and the more difficult it is to deliver that perfectly dosed and perfectly timed pre-bolus.

Even a little carbohydrate restriction is likely to help reduce the frequency and intensity of blood sugar highs.

You’re Eating Hidden Carbs

Ever order a salad at a restaurant, thinking it will be a nice, low-carbohydrate option, only to experience debilitating high blood sugars for hours on end afterward? There are many deceiving foods that we think are low-carb, but are anything but.

Sugar and starches hide in many foods where you wouldn’t expect to find them, especially at restaurants and among the processed foods in the grocery store. Some examples of foods that seem “healthy” but can cause a blood sugar nightmare include:

  • Salads with sweet dressings and croutons or other toppings (or salad in a bread bowl)
  • Soups
  • Smoothies (especially fruit smoothies)
  • Fruit juice
  • Foods labeled “gluten-free”
  • Granola
  • Flavored yogurts
  • Fat-free ice cream
  • Restaurant foods (especially due to extreme portion sizes)

“Healthy” does not necessarily mean “diabetes-friendly.” Fat-free products are often fortified with sugars and starches. And many gluten-free products have even more carbohydrates than their standard gluten counterparts.

If you’ve chosen a restaurant that can provide nutritional information, ask for it, so you’ll know exactly how many carbohydrates you’ll be consuming. Consider asking for salad dressings and sauces on the side. 

Your Insulin Pump May Be Kinked

If you’re insulin-dependent, the first thing you should do at the sign of stubborn high blood sugar is to check to see if you have a kink in your insulin pump cannula. This can block the delivery of insulin, leading to a very frustrating day.

If you’re unsure, change your pump site! Make sure to call your insulin pump manufacturer to let them know of the issue, and they will usually mail you a replacement for free.

You’ve Injected Into Scar Tissue

If there’s no kink in the cannula, or if you’re using syringes to deliver multiple daily injections (MDI), you may have also just picked a “bad” site. When insulin is injected (either manually or with an insulin pump infusion set) into scar tissue, absorption suffers, resulting in unpredictable and high blood sugars.

Make sure to always rotate your sites as much as possible to avoid developing scar tissue and the inevitable high blood sugars they bring.

Your Medications Need Adjusting

Our bodies are constantly changing. It would be silly to expect the same insulin to carbohydrate ratio or insulin sensitivity factors or even the same number of milligrams of our oral diabetes medications for our entire lives.

Make sure you’re seeing your endocrinologist or diabetes doctor regularly; they can help refine your medication regimen.

You may be especially likely to require adjustments if you’ve recently lost or gained weight, have increased or decreased your activity levels, are going through a stressful life change, are pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, or haven’t been to the doctor for a while.

Your Medications Are Expired

Always check to make sure your medications aren’t expired! At room temperature, insulin will lose potency

Oral medications can last much longer, but you still need to be cognizant of expiration dates and make sure you’re refilling your prescriptions regularly to avoid taking an expired (and potentially useless) dose.

What to Do When Your Blood Sugar Is High

High blood sugars can range from not-a-big-deal to a life-or-death emergency. Make sure to check your blood sugar often and monitor for any signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). If you have blood sugars that are over 250 md/dL for more than a few hours and you have moderate to high ketones, you will need to seek emergency medical care immediately. If you don’t have ketones, but want to feel better as soon as possible, try some of these tactics:

  • Exercise – cardio (a walk, jog or even jumping jacks) can bring blood sugar down quickly
  • Take a correction bolus of insulin
  • Change your pump site
  • Chug water
  • Take a hot shower or bath 
  • Manage stress with a quick yoga sequence or meditation
  • Test for ketones (if you have moderate or high ketones and your blood sugar has been high for several hours, call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away)

Understanding why you’re experiencing high blood sugars is one more way to improve your life with diabetes! Always work with your doctor before changing your oral medication and/or insulin therapy.

Have you ever experienced a mystery, stubborn high blood sugar? What helped you to get it down quickly? Share this post and comment below; we love hearing from our readers!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Zoning in on Sick Day Management: Practical Tips, Strategies, and Advice

By Dr. Francine Kaufman

Pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Fran Kaufman shares tips for managing illness and diabetes: make a sick day plan, have supplies on hand, log your data, modify your insulin doses, and call your healthcare team. 

Everyone with diabetes who takes insulin needs to have a sick day plan. This is something you develop with your healthcare professional to help you manage the high and low sugar levels that can be associated with an illness. The following advice applies to people with type 1 diabetes and people with type 2 diabetes who take insulin – the advice may be different if you have type 2 diabetes and do not take insulin.

Click to jump down to a section:

When you get sick, you are at risk of becoming dehydrated from poor intake or from excessive loss of fluids due to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever (your body may lose more water when you have a high temperature). In addition, dehydration is common in diabetes because high glucose levels (above 180-200 mg/dL) cause sugar to enter your urine, dragging an excess amount of fluid with it. Illness also puts you at risk of developing ketones, which when coupled with high glucose levels can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a very serious condition. How do you know if you have ketones? Good question, click here!

The purpose of your sick day plan is to try to keep your glucose levels in a safe range – to avoid dehydration and to prevent ketones from rising to a dangerous level. When you get sick, you should contact your healthcare team to describe your symptoms, determine if they want to evaluate you or send you to a lab (for testing), and most important, to share the numbers that you will collect as you fill in your sick day log (more on this below). It is possible that no matter what you do, you might need to go to an emergency department or be hospitalized – but acting quickly, obtaining the right data, and doing your best to manage your glucose and hydration will minimize risks.

So what illnesses are we talking about? It turns out just about any common bacterial or viral infection – such as the flu (influenza), a cold (upper respiratory virus), tonsillitis, strep throat, an ear infection, stomach flu (gastroenteritis), a bladder infection, and even a skin infection, such as an abscess – can interfere with your diabetes management. However, right now, the greatest concern is COVID-19. An infection with COVID-19 can lead to very high glucose and ketone levels, putting someone at risk for DKA. Acting quickly to start your sick day plan, even if you end up needing to be hospitalized, is important.

When you get sick, your body needs energy to fight the infection and repair damaged tissue. The infections listed above, particularly those that lead to vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration, cause your body to release certain hormones (called stress or counterregulatory hormones) that tell your liver to release stored glucose and tell your fat cells to release free fatty acids that form ketones. In someone without diabetes, the body releases more insulin to control the rise in glucose and ketones; because you have diabetes, you have to take additional insulin to manage the high glucose and ketone levels. You want to get your sugar levels between 100-180 mg/dL. Blood sugars below 180 mg/dL will prevent excess urination that can dehydrate your body. Staying above 100 mg/dL helps keep you from dipping too low and risking severe hypoglycemia.

If your glucose level is above 180 mg/dL, you need to consider increasing basal insulin doses, using an increase in basal insulin with the temp basal feature on your insulin pump, or giving repeated corrections of bolus insulin with a syringe, pen or pump. Usually, correction doses should not be given more often than every two to three hours to avoid “stacking” insulin, which could lead to low blood sugars. By having a plan for illnesses that starts your modified care early and by keeping in touch with your healthcare team, you are more likely to keep your glucose values in the 100-180 mg/dL range.

But you also have to be concerned about hypoglycemia. Low sugar occurs, particularly in children and the elderly, if the illness affects calorie and carbohydrate intake by decreasing appetite or by causing vomiting or diarrhea. Although low glucose is usually considered to be less than 70 mg/dL, during illness there is concern if glucose levels are below 100 mg/dL. If your infection or illness leads to low glucose levels, reducing basal insulin and not taking bolus insulin doses should be considered. If suspension of insulin is required, you should not suspend or delay taking the next dose of basal insulin for more than 60 minutes, because this increases your risk of developing ketones. Start sipping a sugar-containing drink, one tablespoon at a time. If hypoglycemia continues and you cannot make it better by ingesting sugar, consider the administration of low-dose glucagon. Low-dose glucagon can increase glucose level by 50-200 mg/dL in 30 minutes. To learn about whether low-dose glucagon is right for you, and at what dose, talk with your healthcare team.

To follow what is happening in your body, it helps to start a log of your glucose levels, ketones, fluid intake, and insulin doses. This sick log can be shared with your health care team. It should show improvement from one time period to the next (see below). Note: the biggest concern is vomiting; if you vomit more than twice in a time period or across two time periods, call your healthcare team.

The log shows only two days, because you should be better after 24 hours and completely on the mend after 48 hours. If you are not getting better, call your healthcare team.

Table

Image source: diaTribe

Here’s how to keep track (and why to keep track!) of these important numbers:

1. Glucose Levels: Check glucose levels every 1-2 hours. You may have to change this and check your glucose every 30 minutes if your levels are changing quickly. CGM trend data should be looked at every 10-15 minutes. Watch for rapid changes by looking at numbers and arrows. The goal is to keep your glucose between 100-180 mg/dL and without wide swings in values.

2. Ketone Levels: Urine ketones are often detected using a urine ketone strip. A small patch on the strip changes color depending on your level of ketones, representing negative, small, moderate, large and very large levels of ketones. Moderate, large, and very large levels are of concern. Ketones can also be measured with a fingerstick and a special ketone meter. The readings for blood ketones are more accurate and range from 0.0 to 3.0 mmol/L or greater. Blood ketone levels below 0.6 mmol/L are considered normal. Between 0.6 and 1.5 mmol/L ketones are high and show that your fat has broken down to form excess ketones. This puts you at risk of DKA if glucose levels are also elevated. Ketone levels above 1.5 mmol/L are serious, and you should contact your healthcare professional. Signs of elevated ketones:

  • Nausea and vomiting (which may also be present because of the infection)
  • Shortness of breath and labored breathing (your body is trying to eliminate the ketones through your breath so you can also smell them, they make your breath smell fruity)
  • Weakness
  • Altered level of consciousness and trouble staying awake (this is most concerning; call your healthcare professional immediately if this is happening)

Ketones should be tested at the onset of an illness and then every four hours.  If ketone and glucose levels are both elevated, your healthcare team might advise you to increase correction insulin doses further, by an additional 10-15%. If ketone levels are high and glucose levels are not high (less than 150 mg/dL), oral glucose and some insulin – reduced by about 50% – will help clear your ketones. Drinking water will also help reduce ketones as they are removed in the urine. To learn more about ketones, including what they are and how to measure them, click here.

3. Temperature: High fever can help show the severity of your illness, particularly if it is persistent.  We have learned that COVID-19 is associated with persistent high fever. Use the log sheet to document any medications you take to lower fever so that you can report this to your healthcare team.

4. Fluid Intake, with and without Sugar: Consuming liquids is critical if there is risk of dehydration. Fluids with sugar should be taken if glucose levels are between 100-150 mg/dL, and fluids without sugar should be taken if glucose levels are between 150-180 mg/dL. If you have vomited, wait 30-60 minutes before trying to drink, and then start with teaspoons of water or ice chips, progressing to tablespoons and ounces. The goal is to retain 4-6 ounces of fluids (or 2-4 ounces for young children) every 30-60 minutes until you can drink without risk of vomiting and as your thirst dictates. Food is much less important after vomiting; don’t try to eat food until you are on the mend.

5. Urination: Noting frequency and amount (small, medium, or large) is important to understand the ongoing risk of dehydration. As glucose levels reach the target of 100-180 mg/dL, you should see a decrease in both frequency and amount of urination, as well as less dehydration.

6. Vomiting, Diarrhea and Dehydration:  Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. The signs of dehydration include dry mouth, sunken eyes, weakness, loose skin, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure. Vomiting is also of great concern because it occurs not only from the illness, but as a result of DKA. That’s why vomiting that occurs throughout one time period or spans two time periods in your log means it is time to call your healthcare professional.  However, if you feel weak after vomiting only once or twice, it is always better to call earlier than later.

7.  Insulin, Amount and Time: One of the most important things to remember is that during an illness, you still need to take insulin. Even if you are not eating or drinking at the beginning, you need to have insulin in your body. Insulin allows sugar to enter your body’s cells to be used for energy, and you need more energy to fight off an illness. Insulin also reduces ketone formation and stops excess urination by lowering glucose levels. If you have high glucose, you might need 25-50% more insulin than you usually take, due to insulin resistance created by the extra stress or counterregulatory hormones in your body. If you have low glucose, you might need to take 25-50% less insulin than you usually take, but you still need some basal or background insulin on board.

8. Medications: At the beginning of an illness, you should consider calling your healthcare team to determine if you should avoid taking any of your routine medications while sick. This includes glucose-lowering pills or injections, such as SGLT-2 and GLP-1 drugs, or medications for blood pressure and cholesterol. In addition, it is important to write down any medications you take (name, dosage, time) to treat fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or other symptoms of your illness. Anti-vomiting medications may be helpful but should only be taken after discussing with your healthcare professional.

Key Messages:  

  • Know your sick day plan before you become sick.
  • Have supplies on hand. These include supplies to measure glucose, a way to measure ketones, a thermometer, sugar-containing fluids, glucagon, extra-rapid (or short) acting insulin, and medication to treat fever. Discuss with your healthcare team whether you should have medication for diarrhea and vomiting on hand.
  • Have all the contact information for your healthcare team available, and call them sooner rather than later.
  • Before you call your healthcare team, have the data listed on your log sheet written down, plus your symptoms.
  • Take insulin at modified doses to address both high and low glucose levels. You still need to have some insulin in your body, even if you are not eating.
  • Let someone help you while you are ill. It is too big a job to be done alone.

About Fran

Dr. Fran Kaufman is the Chief Medical Officer of Senseonics, Inc. She is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Pediatrics and Communications at the Keck School of Medicine and the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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