The American Diabetes Association cites the following symptoms as indicative of high blood sugar:
- High blood glucose [Editor's note: Duh]
- High levels of sugar in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
And if high blood sugar goes untreated?
“Hyperglycemia can be a serious problem if you don’t treat it, so it’s important to treat as soon as you detect it. If you fail to treat hyperglycemia, a condition called ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) could occur. Ketoacidosis develops when your body doesn’t have enough insulin. Without insulin, your body can’t use glucose for fuel, so your body breaks down fats to use for energy.
When your body breaks down fats, waste products called ketones are produced. Your body cannot tolerate large amounts of ketones and will try to get rid of them through the urine. Unfortunately, the body cannot release all the ketones and they build up in your blood, which can lead to ketoacidosis.” – ADA website
But what does a high blood sugar feel like? Because when you see someone who is working through an elevated blood sugar, they may not look terribly out of sorts. But what is happening inside of them is real, and plays out in a myriad of ways for every person with diabetes. I’ve tried to write about it several times, but each high is different, and affects me in different ways:
“It’s a thick feeling in the base of your brain, like someone’s cracked open your head and replaced your gray matter with sticky jam. I find myself zoning out and staring at things, and my eyeballs feel dry and like they’re tethered to my head by frayed ropes instead of optic nerves. Everything is slow and heavy and whipped with heavy cream.” – Oh, High!
“There’s something about a high blood sugar that makes my body feel weighted down, like I’m wearing a chain mail suit (not one of those “Forward this or a rabid snail will imbed itself in your ear!” kinds of chain mail – I mean the legit, medieval kind). Or that I’m exercising with weighted boots on. Even when ketones aren’t present (and I always check for them if I’m over 240 and heading to the gym), high blood sugars make slogging through a workout akin to traipsing through waist-high snow drifts. It’s crappy.” – High Flying
“A normal day with diabetes doesn’t wring me out, but yesterday did. Concentrating on work was really difficult, because my high-brain was too sluggish and too thick to let synapses fire. Writing was impossible. Sitting at my desk for more than twenty minutes was impossible because I kept having to take breaks to get more water and then to pee. (I went for a run and a mile and a half into it, made the wise decision to turn around. A good idea since, by the time I got back to my car, the need to pee was amazingly all-consuming. Oh hydration!) My whole body felt like it was submerged in Jell-O, and I tried to swim through it for the majority of the morning. Instead of making beds/doing laundry/cleaning dishes/writing/answering emails/phone calls, I wanted to climb into bed and sleep off the blood sugar hangover, but that wasn’t an option. Life doesn’t wait for diabetes.” – Ketchup and Mustard
One thing that remains consistent is the permeating feeling of failure that coincides with out-of-range blood sugars:
High blood sugar feels like failure. Usually I feel like, "Argh – why?!," but this time it was a clear mistake that I made. #dayofdiabetes
— Kerri / Diabetes (@sixuntilme) May 24, 2013
Is it something I did? Something I could have done better? A combination of both? A symphony of nothing and everything all at once? The cause-and-effect of everything in diabetes, in addition to the guilt, can make high blood sugars feel overwhelming.
But I can check my blood sugar often and consult the trends of my continuous glucose monitor in efforts to keep from cresting up out of range. And when I do have high blood sugar, I have the benefit of insulin that I can inject to help bring my numbers down (and a quick skip to the gym is also great for lowering blood sugars). It can be a challenge, but the benefits of attempting to manage my diabetes far outweigh the costs.