Acute hyperglycemia is a sudden, severe onset of high blood sugar levels that requires medical attention. It can lead to serious complications such as kidney damage.

Hyperglycemia is a common complication resulting from diabetes. Acute hyperglycemia typically occurs in people living with type 1 diabetes.

The incident rates of hyperglycemia have increased significantly over the past two decades. The likely causes include decreased activity levels and an aging population.

A person can take measures to help prevent hyperglycemia from occurring, such as lifestyle changes and managing diabetes.

This article discusses acute hyperglycemia, how it differs from chronic hyperglycemia, possible causes, and more.

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Acute hyperglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels are excessively high. It is a medical emergency that can cause complications, such as kidney damage.

Experts consider the following blood sugar levels as hyperglycemia:

  • higher than 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) when fasting
  • higher than 180 mg/dL 2 hours after eating

Acute hyperglycemia typically occurs in people living with diabetes. Blood sugar levels can spike due to missing insulin doses, not taking enough medication, or engaging in physical activities.

Hyperglycemia can be acute or chronic.

Acute hyperglycemia is a sudden, severe onset of high blood sugar levels. It requires prompt medical attention.

Chronic hyperglycemia occurs when a person has elevated blood sugar levels over a long period. In general, this means they are having difficulty managing their condition.

Both acute and chronic hyperglycemia can cause potentially life threatening complications.

When a person has diabetes, there are several different potential underlying causes of acute hyperglycemia.

They include:

  • living with type 1 diabetes and not getting enough insulin
  • living with type 2 diabetes and not taking enough medication or insulin
  • exercising more than usual
  • stress
  • eating more than usual
  • dawn phenomenon, which is a sudden increase in hormones in the body in the early hours of the morning
  • illness, such as a cold or flu

Hyperglycemia can come on suddenly.

Early signs of hyperglycemia can include:

  • frequent urination
  • increased thirst
  • high blood sugar
  • high levels of glucose in the urine

If left untreated, a person may develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is potentially life threatening and occurs when the body starts to break down fats for energy. This releases a byproduct known as ketone.

The body tries releasing ketones in the urine but cannot eliminate them. This causes a buildup in the blood, leading to ketoacidosis.

When ketoacidosis occurs, a person may experience:

  • very dry mouth
  • shortness of breath
  • breath that smells fruity
  • nausea and vomiting

Without treatment, DKA can lead to a diabetic coma.

Experts often recommend including steps to prevent hyperglycemia in a person’s treatment or management plan.

Ways to help prevent hyperglycemia from occurring include:

  • checking blood sugar levels regularly, following a doctor’s recommendations
  • taking prescription medications according to a doctor’s orders
  • participating in regular exercise
  • following a diabetes meal plan
  • discussing insulin changes with a doctor

Acute hyperglycemia needs urgent medical attention. In a hospital, doctors will typically replace fluids and electrolytes through an IV drip. They will then administer insulin to help manage the blood sugar.

A person should call 911 or seek emergency treatment if they suspect they have acute hyperglycemia or DKA.

If people notice their blood sugar levels frequently becoming elevated, they should consider discussing changes to their treatment and prevention plans. A doctor may adjust medications or suggest a higher dose of insulin. They may also help the person develop a plan for what to do if their blood sugar levels spike suddenly.

Acute hyperglycemia usually occurs in people living with type 2 diabetes and is when blood sugar levels suddenly increase. It can cause potentially life threatening complications and typically requires emergency medical intervention.

A person can take steps to help manage their blood sugar levels, such as following instructions on medications and insulin, regularly checking their blood sugar levels, living an active lifestyle, and following a suitable meal plan.

If a person’s blood sugar spikes and they begin to feel unwell, they should seek medical attention immediately. Treatment will typically involve replacing fluids and insulin.