Signs & Symptoms Hypoglycemia & Hyperglycemia

More than 23 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, and each year 1.6 million people receive a new diagnosis of this disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. People with diabetes must carefully manage their blood sugar, or blood glucose, levels with diet, physical activity and medication to prevent diabetes complications and avoid hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Close-up of two people's hands holding blood sugar monitors. (Image: Brendan Delany/iStock/Getty Images)

Hypoglycemia

When blood sugar levels drop below normal levels, a person may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as nervousness, shakiness and hunger. He may sweat and feel dizzy, lightheaded and confused. Sleepiness, anxiety, confusion and difficulty talking are also signs that a person has hypoglycemia. A person who has hypoglycemia while sleeping may sweat profusely during sleep, experience nightmares or wake feeling tired and irritable. If hypoglycemia isn't treated, the condition can worsen, causing more-severe symptoms such as fainting, confusion, clumsiness, seizures, coma and even death. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, most cases of hypoglycemia are mild, and consuming food or drink rich in carbohydrates helps bring blood sugar levels back to normal. People with diabetes may need to take glucose tablets to raise their blood sugar levels quickly and avoid hypoglycemia's complications.

Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels, occur when the body lacks insulin or cannot use insulin properly. High levels of sugar in the urine indicate hyperglycemia; frequently feeling thirsty and having to urinate often are also indicators of high blood sugar levels. According to the American Diabetes Association, checking blood sugar levels often can help alert you to hyperglycemia before you feel symptoms. In many cases, reducing food intake and exercising can lower blood sugar levels, though you should not exercise if you have blood sugar levels above 240 mg/dL.

Ketoacidosis

If hyperglycemia remains untreated, a person may develop ketoacidosis. In ketoacidosis, the lack of insulin in the body leads to the production of ketones, acids created when your body must burn fat instead of glucose that are excreted in your urine. You may develop a dry mouth, fruity-smelling breath and experience nausea and vomiting. If ketoacidosis isn't treated, the person may develop constant fatigue, dry or flushed skin and confusion. High levels of ketones in your body can cause diabetic coma and, without treatment, even death. People with ketoacidosis usually need hospital treatment.

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