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Hyperglycemia vs. hypoglycemia: What to know

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DifferencesHyperglycemia treatmentHypoglycemia treatmentEmergenciesSummary
Sudden changes in blood sugar levels could be due to either high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). The differences between them will determine the treatment required.
Medically reviewed by Kelly Wood, MD
Written by Rashida Ruwa, RN
Updated on May 26, 2023

Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are two common conditions affecting people with diabetes. Both conditions result from an imbalance in blood sugar levels, but they each have very different symptoms, causes, and treatments. 

Hyperglycemia is characterized by high blood sugar levels, while hypoglycemia is characterized by low blood sugar levels. Both conditions can be serious and lead to many complications if left untreated.

Let’s examine the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia

Female healthcare professional holding a clipboard in her right hand and placing her left hand ion the shoulder of an adult female while explaining the difference between hypoglycemia vs. hyperglycemia
Photography by Cavan Images/Getty Images

Key differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia include:

HyperglycemiaHypoglycemia
Definitionhigh blood sugar levelslow blood sugar levels
Symptomsfrequent urination

increased thirst

dry mouth

blurred vision

fatigue

headache
shaking

sweating

confusion

dizziness

irritability

hunger

rapid heartbeat
Causesthe body is unable to produce enough insulin

the body is insulin resistant
taking too much insulin or other glucose-lowering medications

not eating enough

engaging in strenuous exercise without adjusting medication or food intake
Treatmentadjusting insulin or other medication doses

increasing physical activity

modifying the diet
consuming a source of glucose, such as candy or juice

adjusting medication or food intake

using glucagon injections in severe cases

Hyperglycemia and treatment

Hyperglycemia shows a higher-than-average amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Typical fasting blood sugar levels should be 99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or lower. Readings of 100–125 mg/dL can indicate prediabetes, and any reading over 126 mg/dL indicates diabetes.

Hyperglycemia commonly links to diabetes, a chronic condition in which the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels. It can also occur as a result of certain medications, stress, a high carbohydrate diet, or other medical conditions.

The symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • frequent urination
  • blurred vision
  • increased thirst
  • fruity breath odor
  • slow healing of cuts and bruises

If left untreated, hyperglycemia can lead to serious complications such as nerve and kidney damage, as well as cardiovascular disease.

Hyperglycemia treatment depends on the underlying cause. For people with diabetes, treatment aims to bring blood sugar levels back to the expected range. Treatments may include:

  • Adjusting medications: A doctor may need to change your medication type or dosage to help lower your blood sugar levels.
  • Monitoring: Regular blood sugar monitoring is important for tracking treatment effectiveness and making any necessary changes.
  • Making lifestyle adaptations: Eating a balanced diet, ensuring regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can naturally help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Managing stress: Stress can increase blood sugar levels, so finding ways to manage stress, such as meditation or yoga, could help.

In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to provide more intensive treatment, including IV fluids and medications.

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Hypoglycemia and treatment

Hypoglycemia is a condition where you have too little glucose in the blood, and when your fasting blood sugar level is below 70 mg/dL. It is also commonly linked with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but it can also occur in people who do not have diabetes.

Skipping meals, exercising too much, drinking alcohol, or taking too much insulin or other diabetes medications can cause hypoglycemia, and symptoms may include:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • weakness
  • dizziness

Severe hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and other serious complications if left untreated.

The treatment for hypoglycemia depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause. If you have diabetes and experience mild to moderate hypoglycemia, you can try to treat it by consuming a quick-acting source of glucose, such as:

  • glucose tablets or gel
  • fruit juice or regular soda
  • hard candies
  • honey

If you have severe hypoglycemia and are unable to consume anything orally, you will need immediate medical attention. You may receive IV glucose or glucagon to rapidly raise your blood sugar levels.

It is important for people with type 1 diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels closely and carry a source of glucose with them at all times, in case of an episode of hypoglycemia.

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Emergencies

In an emergency, seek immediate medical attention by calling a doctor or your local emergency number, or go to the nearest emergency room.

For hypoglycemia, if the person is conscious and able to swallow, you can offer them a quick-acting source of glucose, such as fruit juice, hard candies, or glucose tablets.

If the person is unconscious or unable to swallow, you may need to administer an injection of glucagon and call 911 for emergency medical services.

For hyperglycemia, if a person has diabetes, it is important to follow a doctor’s instructions for adjusting their medications and monitoring their blood sugar levels.

In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to provide more intensive treatment, including IV fluids and medications.

Summary 

Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are two conditions that affect blood glucose levels.

Hyperglycemia is when there is too much sugar in the blood, while hypoglycemia is when there is too little.

Both conditions can link with diabetes types 1 and 2, but other they may also be due to other factors. Understanding the differences between these conditions can help people manage their blood sugar levels effectively, prevent complications, and make sure they get the correct treatment.

Hyperglycemia treatment typically involves managing blood sugar levels through lifestyle modifications such as diet, and exercise, and medication if necessary. In contrast, hypoglycemia treatment involves raising blood sugar levels by consuming a source of glucose, such as fruit juice.

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