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Hyperglycemia and Diabetes

What Is Hyperglycemia?

When blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels) get too high, it's called hyperglycemia. Kids with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes can get get it.

People with diabetes try to keep their blood sugar levels within a range that’s set by their care team. If the blood sugar level goes above that range, they have hyperglycemia (hi-per-gly-SEE-mee-uh). Ranges are different for each person, and your child’s range will depend on their age, how long they’ve had diabetes, and if they have any other health problems.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Hyperglycemia?

Someone who has hyperglycemia might:

  • pee more than usual
  • be very thirsty
  • lose weight, even while eating plenty
  • feel more tired than usual

What Causes Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia happens when there’s not enough insulin working well in the body. This leads to high glucose in the blood. Glucose is a type of sugar that comes from food. It’s the main source of energy for cells, and it travels in the bloodstream. Insulin is needed to “unlock” the cells so sugar can get inside them.

When someone has diabetes, they have a problem with insulin. A person with type 1 diabetes can't make insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body can make insulin but can’t use it well. 

Hyperglycemia can happen in kids with type 1 or type 2 diabetes if they:

  • miss a dose of insulin or other diabetes medicine, or don’t take enough of it
  • eat too many carbohydrates without adjusting their insulin
  • don’t get enough exercise
  • are sick (like with the flu), or are under stress
  • take some types of medicines that can raise blood sugar (like steroids)
  • use insulin that expired or was stored improperly, or have trouble with their pump 

How Is Hyperglycemia Diagnosed?

You will know if your child has hyperglycemia because they’ll have a blood sugar reading above their target (or healthy) range.

How Is Hyperglycemia Treated?

Blood sugar levels can get higher than normal for different reasons. But treatment for hyperglycemia is always the same: Follow the diet and exercise plan and give insulin or other medicines on schedule.

What Can Happen If Blood Sugars Are High?

In the short term, high blood sugars can turn into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is an emergency condition that needs treatment right away. DKA can happen to kids with type 1 diabetes and, less often, kids with type 2 diabetes. Kids with type 2 diabetes also can get another type of emergency called hyperosmotic hyperglycemic state (HHS). Both conditions need treatment in the hospital and are very serious.

Untreated hyperglycemia can lead to serious health problems later in life. If it happens a lot, it can harm blood vessels, the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.

How Can Parents Help?

To prevent hyperglycemia, check blood sugars often and follow the care plan to keep them in the healthy range. Teach your child to do this, so they can take on this responsibility as they grow.

Make sure your child:

  • takes insulin and diabetes medicines as prescribed (and adjusts them as instructed)
  • eats and drinks according to their meal plan
  • gets plenty of exercise every day
  • checks their blood sugar levels throughout the day (and ketone levels when needed)
  • follows instructions from their care team (including instructions for sick days)

Even when you follow the care plan and check blood sugars carefully, your child can still have a high level from time to time. But if you find that your child has high blood sugar levels often, talk to your diabetes health care team. They may suggest changes to the care plan to help bring sugar levels back into a healthy range.

Reviewed by: Chijioke Ikomi, MD
Date Reviewed: Feb 1, 2022

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