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Conditions That Mimic Diabetes

By Helen L. Curtis, RD, LDN, ; Updated August 14, 2017

Hyperglycemia, a state of high blood sugar, is most commonly associated with diabetes. This is a disease in which the body no longer processes food properly due to defects in insulin function and production. It is a lifelong disease, so afflicted individuals must modify their eating habits and lifestyle. Eventually pills, insulin or both will be added to control the disease. The state of hyperglycemia can occur with other conditions not associated with diabetes.

Physiologic Stress

Hyperglycemia can present during periods of acute medical or surgical illness due to a physiologic state of stress. Examples include infection, fever, wounds, severe burns, heart attack and bypass surgery. Metabolic and hormonal changes respond to the injury and stress by suppressing insulin action, increasing glucose production and producing an overall inflammatory state. According to a 2008 study published in "Diabetes Spectrum," prolonged hyperglycemia is associated with poor outcomes. Insulin is often provided as a temporary remedy. Blood sugar metabolism usually returns to normal once the stress is resolved.

Psychological Stress

Hyperglycemia occurs during periods of high mental stress. When a person is faced with a threatening situation, the fight-or-flight response is triggered. It is a physiologic response that prepares a person to fight or flee from the threat. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released and counter insulin’s action. Blood sugar levels rise as a source of fuel for the possible fight or flee. Once the threat is resolved, insulin action returns and blood sugar levels return to normal.

Medication Induced

The "Journal of the American Medical Association" reports that a wide variety of medications can promote hyperglycemia. Drugs that treat diseases such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and HIV can cause high blood sugar as a side effect. Other drugs include steroids, diuretics and antidepressants. Individuals taking multiple medications should consult their pharmacist or read the information pamphlet associated with their prescriptions. Individuals without diabetes can suffer complications related to high blood sugar.

Diseases of the Liver

The liver is the largest organ within the body and has many functions. One of its primary roles is to provide fuel for the body and brain via glucose production. Stored sugar in the form of glycogen is broken down into glucose and sent out to fuel the required functions of the body. A diseased liver does not function properly and glucose production is often increased as a result.


Adipose tissue is another word for body fat. An excess of adipose tissue can lead to hyperglycemia caused by insulin resistance. When the body can no longer use insulin as it should, it requires more insulin to do the job. The pancreas will continue to make more insulin. Over time, it will not be able to keep up with body demands and blood sugar levels rise.

Insulin resistance related back to obesity is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. To further demonstrate obesity as a cause of hyperglycemia, the Diabetes Prevention Program, a major national study published in "New England Journal of Medicine" in 2002, found that weight loss can help the body respond to insulin and return blood sugar levels to a desirable range. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

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