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Diabetic Symptoms of High Blood Sugar

Authors: David Drum and Terry Zierenberg, R.N., C.D.E.
Excerpt from: The Type 2 Diabetes Sourcebook

High blood sugar is the greatest single danger for people with Type 2 diabetes because over time the presence of too much sugar in the blood is linked with long-term complications, such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. Your power to raise and lower your own blood sugar is the greatest reason to check your blood sugar levels on a regular basis.

If you need another reason to control high blood sugar, note that you will continue to gain weight if blood sugars run high. The excess sugar in your blood will be stored in your body, some of it being converted into potentially dangerous fats called triglycerides. A feeling of depression may occur after several days of high blood sugar; this will affect the way you look at yourself and those around you, and probably hamper your efforts at self-management.

Unfortunately, many symptoms of high blood sugar are subtle and may easily be confused for something else, such as simply having a bad day at work or another minor health problem. This is why you should become attuned to your own body, and test your blood sugar. Learn to recognize the symptoms that you experience when your blood sugar is high.

One frequent symptom of high blood sugar is a stuffed, Thanksgiving afternoon feeling. Some feel a buzzing sensation in their bodies. Slow-healing cuts, sores, or infections can be warnings of high blood sugar. According to Richard Bernstein, M.D., author of Diabetes Type 2, Including Dramatic New Approaches to the Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes, other symptoms of high blood sugar may include confusion, headache, trembling hands, tingling in the fingers or tongue, buzzing in the ears, elevated pulse, unusual hunger, a tight  feeling in the throat or near the tongue, clumsiness, less ability to detect sweetness in taste sensations, irritability, stubbornness, nastiness, pounding the hands on tables and walls, blurred vision, visual spots, double vision, visual hallucinations, visual impairments, lack of physical coordination, tiredness, weakness, sudden awakenings from sleep, shouting while asleep, rapid and shallow breathing, nervousness, light-headedness, faintness, feelings of unusual warmth, cold clammy skin, restlessness, insomnia, nightmares, paleness of complexion, nausea, slurring of speech, and a condition called nystagmus in which the eyes involuntarily jerk when sweeping from side to side. For some, blood sugar is elevated when the letters of the Arabic alphabet begin to look like they’re written in Russian or Chinese. Other people walk into walls when their blood sugar is high. Some people become intensely angry and upset for no apparent reason. According to Dr. Bernstein, the symptoms of high blood sugar may occur in clusters or appear alone without other symptoms.

Since your symptoms will be unique to you, try to identify them with the use of home blood sugar tests. If it will help you remember, tell someone else or write down how you feel at the moment when your blood sugar tests unusually high for you. Ask your spouse or family members to tell you if they spot any symptoms of high blood sugar in you. Symptoms are distinctive to each individual–pay attention to your own body and learn to spot high blood sugar whenever you can.

If your blood sugar does become elevated, practice good self-management to reduce your stress, become more physically active, or adjust your eating patterns to bring it back under control. Medications can also help you accomplish this.

In the most rare and extreme instances of high blood sugar, such as when you have been ill over a long period of time, you may go into a diabetic coma, falling into unconsciousness for no apparent reason to those around you. In this case, you must be taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment.

Don’t ignore high blood sugar. All the long-term complications of diabetes are believed to result from prolonged periods of high blood sugar or poor blood sugar control.