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Hypoglycemic and Hyperglycemic Episodes: How Are They Different?

Hypoglycemic and Hyperglycemic Episodes: How Are They Different?

Hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes are complications that can happen to people with type 2 diabetes. Both of these are serious conditions, but between hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which is more dangerous? And what can diabetics do about these conditions?

Type 1 Diabetes: All You Need To Know

What is a hyperglycemic episode?

A hyperglycemic episode is when a person’s blood sugar levels are too high. This condition is also known as hyperglycemia, and it is more common among patients with type 2 diabetes.

Signs of hyperglycemia can include the following symptoms:

  • Drinking a lot of water or feeling thirsty all the time
  • Sudden and unintentional weight loss
  • Feelings of tiredness, lethargy, weakness, or fatigue
  • Stomachaches and nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequently suffering from infections

Too much blood sugar affects the body negatively because it can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, as well as damage nerves. Kidney damage can also be a possible effect of hyperglycemia, because the kidney can have a hard time filtering out the extra waste in the blood.

If hyperglycemia is left untreated, it could lead to complications such as the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Loss of vision
  • Frequent infections
  • Non-healing wounds; the most common is diabetic foot, where the scratch on a patient’s foot develop into a non-healing wound that could result in amputation.

What causes this to happen?

In type 2 diabetics, hyperglycemia happens when a person is unable to manage their blood sugar well. This means that if they don’t follow a healthy diet, are not exercising, and not taking the right types of medication, hyperglycemia can happen.

Please note that not following a healthy diet doesn’t just mean they eat too much sweets; it could also indicate that they eat too much of a certain food.

Hyperglycemia can also happen if a person does not take their insulin in the right dosage and in the right time.

What is a hypoglycemic episode?

hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes

In contrast with hyperglycemia, a hypoglycemic episode means that a person has very low blood sugar levels. And just like having too much sugar in the blood, having too little sugar in the blood can also be harmful to a person’s health.

Possible symptoms of hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Hunger
  • Constant sweating, even if it’s not warm
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches

Hypoglycemia is a potentially deadly condition. If a person with diabetes suffers from hypoglycemia, they need to eat something sweet or with sugar as soon as possible in order to keep their blood sugar levels up.

If left untreated, it can cause the following complications:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Diabetic coma
  • Death

What causes this to happen?

For people with diabetes, hypoglycemia could happen if they take too much insulin, or take too much medication that reduces their blood sugar levels.

Low blood sugar could also take place when patients take their usual dose of insulin or medication, but are having an infection or they don’t eat their meals or eat less. For this reason, it’s crucial to keep track of a diabetic’s eating habits.

Not taking the right dosage of insulin and the right medication can cause a person’s blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low, and cause hypoglycemia.

Not eating enough foods with carbohydrates or sugars can also affect a person’s blood sugar levels, and can potentially cause hypoglycemia. This could also happen when a person with diabetes skips their meals.

It’s also possible for hypoglycemia to happen if a diabetic engages in too much exercise, especially if they haven’t eaten yet.

Lastly, drinking too much alcohol can also trigger a hypoglycemic episode.

Type 2 Diabetes: All You Need To Know

What are the differences between hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes?

The main difference between hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes is that hypoglycemia means that a person has low blood sugar, and hyperglycemia means a person has too much blood sugar.

Another difference is that hyperglycemia is much more common compared to hypoglycemia. In particular, people with type 2 diabetics are much more prone to hyperglycemia compared to hypoglycemia.

On the other hand, hypoglycemia was found to be much more common among patients with severe diabetes, mostly because they also underwent insulin treatments for their condition.

Between hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which is more dangerous?

While both hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes are serious conditions that need to be addressed, hypoglycemia poses a much more immediate threat.

This is due to the fact that having low blood sugar can cause problems such as unconsciousness, seizures, or a diabetic coma. If hypoglycemia is not managed immediately, it can quickly lead to a person’s death.

On the other hand, hyperglycemia can cause more long-term problems. Complications most commonly associated with diabetes, such as blindness, skin infections, or even limb amputations are usually the result of hyperglycemia.

In terms of managing these conditions, hyperglycemia needs to be managed constantly. This means that a person with diabetes needs to monitor their blood sugar intake, eat healthy foods, and make sure that they are taking the right medication.

For cases of hypoglycemia, the treatment usually consists of eating a small amount of sugar. This can help increase the blood sugar levels to prevent complications from hypoglycemia. It’s also important for diabetics to not overtreat or take too much of their medication.

All in all, diabetics should be informed about hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic episodes, and they should be aware of both how to prevent these episodes from happening, and what they can do in case it happens.

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Sources

Diabetes: Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia, https://www.nm.org/-/media/Northwestern/Resources/patients-and-visitors/patient-education-conditions-diseases/northwestern-medicine-Diabetes-Hypoglycemia-Hyperglycemia-nov2016.pdf?la=en, Accessed October 9, 2020

Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia in type 1 diabetes – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279340/#:~:text=Hyperglycemia%20occurs%20when%20blood%20sugar,blood%2Dsugar%2Dlowering%20medication., Accessed October 9, 2020

Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia in type 2 diabetes – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279510/, Accessed October 9, 2020

What Is the Difference Between Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia? – VisionAware, https://visionaware.org/your-eye-condition/diabetic-retinopathy/hyperglycemia-and-hypoglycemia/, Accessed October 9, 2020

Hyperglycemia (High Blood Glucose) | ADA, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/medication-management/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hyperglycemia, Accessed October 9, 2020

Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose) | ADA, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/medication-management/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia, Accessed October 9, 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jun 03
Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, M.D.
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