High blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, occurs when there is a surplus of glucose in the bloodstream. It is a common condition among diabetics whose bodies cannot produce enough insulin to handle even normal glucose levels. High blood sugar may also be experienced by non-diabetics when they have ingested a significant amount of complex carbohydrates, sugar products or alcohol in a short span of time. Symptoms may range from mild to severe, and encompass everything from excessive thirst to falling into a coma.
In its very early stages, high blood sugar may yield no symptoms whatsoever. Non-diabetic individuals may frequently experience high blood sugar, particularly after a meal, and have no awareness of it. This is due to the fact the body produces an appropriate amount of insulin at the first sign of glucose in the bloodstream, and metabolizes the sugar into energy and fat before it can build up to a level where the individual may take notice of it. Some glucose sensitive non-diabetics may experience a brief “sugar high” before the insulin has started metabolizing the sugar; this is characterized by a rush of energy followed by a short crash. However, this is more a result of high blood sugar than a forerunner of diabetic symptoms.
The first genuine symptoms of hyperglycemia typically include feelings of excessive hunger or thirst, as well as frequent urination. The thirst symptom tends to be the most dominant of the mild symptoms, with the individual craving water in particular. This is because as sugar builds up in the bloodstream it dehydrates cells, hindering them from correctly absorbing the sugar. If water is ingested by an non-diabetic individual with early symptoms of hyperglycemia it is usually enough to help the body process the sugar and return fairly quickly to a state of balance. Diabetics may also need to take a dose of insulin in tandem with rehydration to keep sugar levels from increasing.
Moderate symptoms of high blood sugar begin to appear when an individual continues to ingest large amounts of food or drink containing high glucose content or when already established hyperglycemia goes unchecked. In addition to increased hunger and thirst, the individual will experience dry mouth, blurred vision and a sudden onset of fatigue. It is fairly challenging for a non-diabetic individual to reach this level of hyperglycemia simply from food intake alone; however it is common for a diabetic to experience these symptoms if they have not regulated their insulin properly.
If more sugar continues to be ingested or sugar levels go untreated, a diabetic may experience severe symptoms that are serious and potentially life threatening. It is very rare for a non-diabetic to experience severe symptoms. Serious symptoms of high blood sugar include hyperventilation, cardiac arrhythmia, acute dehydration, increased anxiety, slurred speech and in extreme cases a loss of consciousness or entry into a coma. Diabetics who have high unchecked glucose levels are also at risk of developing ketoacidosis, a serious blood condition that can be fatal if untreated.
Some individuals who experience consistent high blood sugar may suffer long-term symptoms, such as weight loss, susceptibility to bacterial infections in the ears and reproductive organs, impotence and slow or incomplete wound healing. These symptoms are generally experienced by diabetics who do not manage their insulin properly or by individuals over the course of the onset of Type II diabetes before it is identified.