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Difference Between Diabetes & Hyperglycemia

author image Kathryn Vera
Kathryn Vera holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, as well as licensure as a Registered Dietitian. Currently, she works as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, where she provides care to patients living with chronic heart disease.
Difference Between Diabetes & Hyperglycemia
Lab tests are often used to diagnose diabetes. Photo Credit: jarun011/iStock/Getty Images

The rate of diabetes in the United States increased nearly 167 percent between 1980 and 2011. Understanding the basics of diabetes is crucial for individuals who are interested in keeping this dangerous condition in check. Both diabetes and hyperglycemia are characterized by high blood sugar -- in fact, people with diabetes may occasionally become hyperglycemic -- but the causes and treatments for each condition are somewhat different.

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Diabetes Basics

Diabetes is a disorder characterized by high amounts of sugar in the bloodstream that occurs as a result of a lack of insulin or insulin insensitivity -- and while there are a number of ways in which diabetes can be diagnosed, the use of the standardized blood tests are especially popular. Individuals who have an A1c level equal to or greater than 6.5 percent, a fasting plasma glucose level equal to or greater than 126 milligrams per deciliter or an oral glucose tolerance test level equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL after two hours of drinking a sweetened beverage -- or a random plasma glucose level of equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL -- may be diagnosed with diabetes. In most cases, tests will be performed at least twice to confirm the findings, notes the American Diabetes Association.

Hyperglycemia Basics

As with diabetes, hyperglycemia is characterized by high amounts of sugar in the bloodstream -- and in fact, most healthy adults will experience a slight increase in blood sugar levels to greater than 100 mg/dL shortly after eating a meal. Unlike diabetes, however, hyperglycemia may not always be related to a lack of insulin or insulin sensitivity; instead, it can occur as the result of stress, chronic or acute illness, prescription or illegal medication use and even pregnancy. People who have been diagnosed with diabetes will likely experience increases in blood sugar from time to time.

Treatment for Diabetes

Depending on the severity of the condition, the treatment for diabetes and hyperglycemia can vary substantially. In fact, people who have been diagnosed with Type I diabetes -- and lack insulin supplies in the body -- may need to inject themselves with this hormone each day. People with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are encouraged to follow a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods, as well as to limit simple carbohydrates and saturated fats, notes Nelms et al.

Treatment for Hyperglycemia

People who experience occasional hyperglycemia unrelated to diabetes should increase physical activity and limit their intake of simple carbohydrates. Hyperglycemia that is not caused by diabetes requires prompt medication attention, report Nelms et al. in "Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology." In fact, individuals who develop hyperglycemia as a result of chronic illness, infection or stress will likely be required to undergo extensive testing to pinpoint an accurate diagnosis. Treatment with prescription medications, such as antibiotics, is sometimes recommended for individuals who develop hyperglycemia as a result of infection. Hyperglycemia that occurs as a result of chronic illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or kidney disease may also requirement treatment with prescription medications.

Complications of Diabetes and Hyperglycemia

When left untreated, diabetes and hyperglycemia can both cause serious complications (Reference 3). In fact, individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes and fail to manage the condition can develop numbness in the feet, kidney disease or blindness, and have increased risk of stroke (Reference 5). According to the Nelms et al., hyperglycemia should not be ignored -- as uncontrolled cases of the condition can lead to coma or even possible death. Be sure to follow all healthcare recommendations to ensure optimal control of both diabetes and hyperglycemia, and to prevent the development of these complications.

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