High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) often leads to diabetes, a chronic disease that affects how the body turns food into energy. Because diabetes can lead to a variety of serious complications and often life-altering circumstances, it is important to recognize the early warning signs.
Early warning signs of high blood sugar
1. The 3 P’s
While technically different symptoms, the 3 P’s usually occur together and are some of the earliest signs of elevated blood sugar. They include polyphagia (increased hunger), polydipsia (increased thirst), and polyuria (increased urination).
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People may eat more, but still get hungry frequently throughout the day; they may drink more, but still have a dry mouth; and they may urinate more, especially at night.
In type II diabetes, these early warning signs are often so mild and slow to develop that many people overlook them, whereas in type I diabetes, symptoms happen more quickly and are usually more severe.
2. Dry, itchy skin
Elevated levels of blood sugar may lead to dry, itchy skin, similar to what happens in the middle of winter. This is usually because of dehydration, which results from the excessive urination mentioned above.
When blood sugar levels are high over a longer period of time, itchy skin may result from bacterial overgrowth, neuropathy (nerve damage), or acanthosis nigricans, a condition in which skin folds in the areas of the neck, underarms, or groin turn velvety, dark, and thick.
Fatigue occurs when the body’s cells don’t have enough sugar to make energy.
As food is broken down into sugar, it enters the bloodstream, where sugar then enters the cells with the help of insulin. But when the body can’t produce enough insulin, or can’t use the insulin that it does make, the cells won’t allow sugar to enter. As a result, the cells can’t produce the energy they need, so a person will feel tired and lethargic, have trouble concentrating, and feel foggy-headed.
4. Blurry vision
Blurry vision can also occur with elevated blood sugar, and is one of the earliest symptoms of diabetes.
High levels of blood sugar can cause fluid to move in and out of the eye, resulting in blurry vision in one or both eyes. While blurry vision may come and go, it’s important to have it evaluated by a physician, as complications can result if sugars remain chronically high.
When sugar is unable to enter the body’s cells, the result is increased sugar in the bloodstream. Frequent fluctuations in blood sugar levels may trigger hormonal changes, which can result in a headache.
Unlike low blood sugar headaches, headaches from high blood sugar tend to develop slowly over a period of a few days or weeks. As blood sugar levels continue to rise, headaches usually become more severe. Keeping a journal of the symptoms, time of day, and foods eaten can aid the doctor in their evaluation.
Any of these symptoms may indicate poor blood sugar control or high blood sugar.
How to deal with diabetes
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to follow up with your doctor for evaluation and possible treatment. Over time, if left untreated, diabetes can lead to a variety of complications, including stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, loss of vision, and more.
For those who have been diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to take measures to control blood sugar levels. Some things a diabetic educator might recommend include eating a balanced and nutritious diet with fewer sugars and simple carbohydrates, drinking more water, limiting alcohol intake, and eating smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day.
Translated by Patty Zhang and edited by T Denning