Metabolic Health

Hyperglycemia Causes & Symptoms

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Hyperglycemia in Diabetes

When a human body has too little insulin or cannot process it well, it leads to a spike in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar values shoot past the normal range, it is called hyperglycemia. Usually affecting persons with diabetes, hyperglycemia manifests with symptoms like rapid heartbeats, excessive hunger or thirst, and vomiting. If left untreated, hyperglycemia can cause other health problems.

If you struggle with unregulated blood sugar levels, watch out for signs that make up the hyperglycemia definition. The three P’s of this condition include polydipsia, polyuria, and polyphagia. Polyuria is marked by increased or frequent urination, polydipsia means excessive thirst, and polyphagia is associated with increased appetite. The three P’s may or may not occur together. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your physician and get your blood sugar levels tested immediately.

Hyperglycemia Causes

What is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia occurs when fasting blood sugar level is more than 125 mg/dL or greater than 180 mg/dL roughly two hours after a meal. People with diabetes who have missed their medication or are unable to manage glucose levels with diet, exercise or insulin can suffer from hyperglycemia. Possible causes include:

  • Missing a medication/dose of insulin or taking a lower dose than needed
  • Eating more than the recommended intake, or not exercising enough
  • Emotional stress 
  • Physical stress induced by an illness like a cold or flu
  • The body’s inability to use natural insulin 
  • Inadequate physical activity 
  • Dawn phenomenon: the hormonal surge produced by the body early in the morning
  • Medications like diuretics or steroids

Pancreatic diseases, gestational diabetes, surgery, trauma, insulin resistance caused by endocrine conditions, surgery or trauma can also induce symptoms of hyperglycemia.

Hyperglycemia Symptoms

Early detections of the signs of hyperglycemia can help prevent it from manifesting into a more serious condition. In the case of persons with type 1 diabetes, hyperglycemia can lead to a build-up of toxic acids called ketones in the body. The condition is quite severe, as it can lead to coma or death. However, recognising the symptoms at the right time can help your doctor initiate the right treatment to prevent complications. 

Watch out for these hyperglycemia symptoms:

  • The 3 P's

         - Polydipsia (excessive thirst)

         - Polyuria (frequent or increased urination)

         - Polyphagia (increased appetite)

  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision, fatigue or headaches 
  • Weight loss or weakness
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Coma

Other Symptoms

  • Vaginal and skin infections
  • Slow-healing cuts and sores
  • Abdominal pain

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, immediately check with your healthcare provider. A simple blood test will determine the right treatment depending on the range of your blood sugar. Inform your doctor if your blood sugar levels are constantly over 240 mg/dL even after medication, or you have diarrhoea or vomiting.

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What are Risk Factors for Hyperglycemia?

Blood sugar levels, especially for individuals with diabetes, often tend to fluctuate. However, you should be aware of what hyperglycemia means for your health. Constantly high levels of blood sugar can cause severe complications. Untreated hyperglycemia can damage the nerves, tissues and blood vessels, eventually damaging other organs and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. This can also damage the eyes, kidneys and delay wound healing. 

Some major symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

  • A family history of diabetes mellitus
  • Excessive weight and a sedentary lifestyle 
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • History of gestational diabetes
  • Irregular medication or insulin use 
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

What causes Hyperglycemia in people with Diabetes?

There can be many underlying hyperglycemia causes in persons with diabetes. As discussed in the previous sections, improper use of medication/insulin, illness or stress, use of steroids or certain drugs, insufficient physical activity or eating more than your body can process, can trigger hyperglycemia. A combination of diet, medication and exercise can help maintain blood sugar levels within the normal range. If your blood glucose is constantly more than 240 mg/dl, you should also get your urine tested for ketones. Avoid exercising if you have ketones in urine, as it can spike your blood glucose even further. 

How to Prevent Hyperglycemia?

While it is advised that persons with diabetes watch out for the Signs and Symptoms of Hyperglycemia, it is always better to take the necessary precautions to help prevent it in the first place. Blood sugar levels can be kept under control if you follow the diabetes management plan advised by your doctor. In case hyperglycemia is induced by certain steroids or illnesses, your doctor will be able to adjust medication to bring your blood sugar levels within the normal range. The following points can help prevent hyperglycemia:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity helps lower blood sugar.
  • Diet: Stick to your meal plan and avoid foods high in carbohydrates or sugars as these tend to impact your blood sugar levels. Time your meals and your medication through the day. Avoid eating too much or too little during a meal.
  • Healthy weight: A combination of diet and exercise will help maintain your ideal weight, which goes a long way in preventing diabetes-related complications and maintaining blood sugar levels.
  • Lifestyle: Quit smoking and limit drinking alcohol; the latter can not only increase blood sugar, but it can also cause a sudden drop in the same. 
  • Monitor blood glucose: Regularly measure your blood glucose levels. If required, record blood sugar multiple times a day. Closely monitoring these can help keep your sugar levels within range and help your doctor create the most suitable diabetes management plan for you.


If you are unsure of how frequently you should check your sugar levels, consult your doctor. Managing hyperglycemia with a healthy diet, active lifestyle and stress management is easy for individuals diagnosed with both, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Oral medications and insulin can help control high blood glucose levels. You may even be asked to take extra medication until your blood sugar is back in the normal range. Your physician will also advise the exercises that best suit you. Avoid strenuous exercise if you have cardiovascular or other physical conditions.

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