If you live with diabetes, you probably know that living with the condition is like walking a tightrope. Staying in the range without too many high (hyperglycemic) and low (hypoglycemic) blood sugars is a constant balancing act. But what blood sugar levels are actually considered dangerous? This article will explore the question. We’ll provide advice on how you can help manage both the ups and downs of diabetes, literally!
The danger of hyperglycemia: Which rate is dangerous?
Having high blood sugar means there is too much sugar in the blood because the body lacks insulin. This can happen for many reasons! These include not taking enough insulin exogenously, exercising too little, eating too much, or even stress. Hormonal changes and lack of sleep also have health consequences. High blood sugar is dangerous, but it’s important to remember that high blood sugar is especially dangerous over long periods of time (unless you’re in DKA). This means that, for the most part, your blood sugar levels at the time of diagnosis will not cause long-term complications. The spike you saw last week from eating a little ice cream won’t affect you in the long run.
But chronic and prolonged high blood sugar (think a lifetime of diabetes with a constant average blood sugar of 200 mg/dL) will lead to diabetes complications in most people.
What is high blood sugar and what level is dangerous?
Blood sugar is considered high in people with diabetes once it exceeds the recommended 120 mg/dL, however, having a blood sugar of 145 mg/dL will generally not cause any problems (especially if you go to sleep or plan to do some exercice). For most people, hyperglycemia becomes symptomatic once blood sugar reaches between 180 and 200 mg/dL.
Blood sugars above 200 mg/dL should be treated immediately with insulin (and water and exercise are also helpful), and any blood sugars above 250 mg/dL require you to do a urine test to ketones, to make sure you’re not spiraling into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is when the body’s blood becomes acidic due to prolonged and dangerously high blood sugar levels and blood ketones. It can be fatal if not treated immediately.
The danger of high hypoglycemia
Low blood sugar can become much more dangerous faster. If left untreated, can quickly lead to diabetic coma and death. Hypoglycemia will not cause permanent complications in most cases. On the other hand, if someone doesn’t suffer brain swelling and traumatic brain injury from falling into a diabetic coma, that’s serious. But otherwise it leads to frequent, short-term complications in the form of physical inability to function during a stocking. They need fast-acting glucose (or a dose of glucagon) as treatment.
Symptoms of low blood sugar can affect different people at different times, and some people may not feel their low blood sugar at all (hypoconsciousness), which can be very dangerous. Signs of hypoglycemia are confusion, anger or frustration, sweating, rapid pulsing, hunger, dizziness, and difficulty speaking. Blood glucose monitoring systems and diabetes alert dogs can help people catch their depressions earlier, before they become life-threatening.
What is low blood sugar and is it dangerous?
What blood sugar level is dangerous? For the average person with diabetes, hypoglycemia means anything below 80 mg/dL (for pregnant women, who need tighter control, hypoglycemia is below 60 mg/dL). Very low blood glucose is any reading below 40 mg/dL. Anything below 40 mg/dL is considered extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. A person has a significantly higher risk of falling into a diabetic coma if they fail to get blood sugar above 40 mg/dL for several hours. So, hypoglycemia can become much more dangerous more quickly. If left untreated, it can quickly lead to diabetic coma and death.
Tips to avoid high blood sugar and hypoglycemia
Walking the tightrope of living with diabetes is not easy. We have to work hard every day to make sure we don’t let our blood sugar levels get too high or too low, and that can be exhausting. Here are some strategies to help keep your blood sugar in balance:
- Eat some low glycemic index foods to have stable blood sugar.
- Cook food at home, so you know all the ingredients for your meal.
- Keep a routine and eat at the same times each day.
- Get enough sleep!
- Double-check your insulin doses to make sure you’re not taking too much or too little.
- If you’ve counted the carbs for a meal and dosed the insulin for those carbs, eat everything.
- Regularly check the expiry dates of your insulin.
- Always have fast-acting glucose and glucagon close by.
- Take all insulin and diabetes medications as prescribed.
- Wear a CGM or get a Diabetes Alert Dog to help detect hypoglycemia if you are hypoconscious.
- Choose a diabetes alert bracelet and learn how regulate blood sugar levels naturally by choosing the right foods.
- Work with your doctor to increase or decrease your insulin needs as you go through life changes (puberty, pregnancy, aging, training for a race, etc.).
- Treat all high and low blood sugars early and often, before they become dangerous.