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When your blood sugar level gets too high — known as hyperglycemia or high blood glucose — the quickest way to reduce it is to take fast-acting insulin. Exercising is another fast, effective way to lower blood sugar.
In some cases, you should go to the hospital instead of handling it at home.
Very high blood sugar levels can result in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when insulin levels are low. This is a medical emergency.
Symptoms of DKA include:
- shortness of breath
- breath that smells fruity
- nausea and vomiting
- a very dry mouth
If you aren’t sure what to do, call your doctor to get instructions on administering a dose of insulin, and for advice about whether to go to the emergency room.
This article looks at ways to lower your blood sugar quickly, when to go to the emergency room or see a doctor, and tips for managing high blood sugar.
When treated early, you can bring high blood sugar levels down and prevent complications, including DKA.
Some sources suggest that drinking water or eating a high protein snack can quickly lower your blood sugar levels, though there isn’t enough research to support this.
If you have high blood sugar and need to lower it fast, try the following methods:
Take your insulin as prescribed
High blood sugar occurs when your body has too little insulin, or your body can’t use insulin properly. Administering insulin can bring your blood sugar levels down.
Talk to your doctor about how much rapid-acting insulin you should administer when your blood sugar is high.
You may want to check your blood sugar about 15–30 minutes after taking insulin to make sure your blood sugar is going down and that it’s not dropping too low.
Exercise is a fast and effective way to lower your blood sugar levels.
Exercise can lower your blood sugar for 24 hours or more after you’ve finished. This is because it makes your body more sensitive to insulin.
Physical activity causes the body to demand glucose for energy. As a result, the cells deliver glucose to the muscles and blood sugar levels usually drop.
For this to work, you need a form of exercise that gets your heart pumping faster than usual. This can include walking at a quick pace.
Importantly, if your blood sugar is above 240 mg/dl, you should check your urine for ketones. If ketones are present, do not exercise, because this can make your blood sugar rise even higher.
Exercising when you have ketones in your urine increases your risk of complications from high blood sugar.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor will likely recommend you check your blood sugar before exercising. You can do this with at-home urine ketone testing kits, which are available online.
While exercise is an effective way to lower your blood sugar throughout the day, some types of exercises — particularly short bursts of strenuous activity — can briefly increase blood sugar levels.
This is because strenuous activity activates the body’s stress response, causing a release of glucagon to power the muscles.
If your ketone levels are high, avoid strenuous exercise and try some light exercise, like walking, instead.
Exercising can usually bring down high blood sugar levels, but don’t exercise if there are ketones in your urine. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take insulin to treat hyperglycemia.
High blood sugar can be very concerning because your body can start burning fat for energy instead of blood glucose.
This can cause conditions such as DKA and hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS). These conditions are medical emergencies and can be fatal if left untreated.
DKA is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes. It’s rare in people with type 2 diabetes, but can occur.
Symptoms that can indicate you should go to the emergency room include:
- ketones in your urine, as diagnosed using a urine dipstick test
- excessive thirst
- frequent urination
- shortness of breath
- stomach pain
High blood sugar levels can cause a fluid imbalance in the body and can cause the blood to become acidic in a manner that doesn’t support life.
Medical treatments for these conditions include administering intravenous insulin on a continuous basis and IV fluids to correct dehydration.
High blood sugar can become a medical emergency. Go to the ER if you suspect DKA or HHS.
According to the University of Michigan, blood sugar levels of 300 mg/dL or more can be dangerous. They recommend calling a doctor if you have two readings in a row of 300 or more.
Call your doctor if you’re worried about any symptoms of high blood sugar. They can offer advice and reassurance.
See your doctor if you have consistently high blood sugar levels. Symptoms of this include:
- consistently high blood sugar readings
- frequent urination
- increased thirst
- high levels of sugar in urine
Ask your doctor how often to check your blood sugar and about your ideal blood sugar levels.
If you don’t currently see a doctor who specializes in diabetes, known as an endocrinologist, you can find one by searching the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ website.
You can find a certified diabetes educator by visiting the American Diabetes Association’s website and searching by zip code.
Talk to your doctor if you have consistently high blood sugar readings or symptoms of chronic hyperglycemia.
Checking your blood sugar and then treating hyperglycemia early will help prevent any complications.
Health problems can arise when someone has high blood sugar regularly and without treatment.
Examples of complications include:
- nerve damage, called diabetic neuropathy, that may affect sensations in the feet and hands
- diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the blood vessels in the eyes that affects vision
- increased risks for kidney problems
- increased risks for heart problems
Taking steps to keep your blood sugar at target levels can help to minimize the likelihood that these complications will occur.
Find several tips for avoiding blood sugar spikes here.
Having high blood sugar frequently and without treatment can raise the risk of diabetes-related health problems, including neuropathy and retinopathy.
Talk to your doctor about your blood sugar levels and when you should seek emergency medical attention.
Here are some general guidelines for blood sugar ranges:
|Blood sugar||What to know|
|Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Eat a snack to raise blood sugar (e.g. 1/2 cup fruit juice, 1 tbsp. honey, or 2 tbsp. raisins).|
|80–130 mg/dL||Ideal preprandial range (before a meal).|
|180 mg/dL or lower||Ideal postprandial range (1–2 hours after beginning a meal).|
|240 mg/dL or higher||Check your urine for ketones. Call your doctor if you find moderate amounts of ketones after more than one test.|
Sometimes, doctors recommend that a person maintains higher blood sugar goals than others. That’s why it’s important to talk with your doctor about goals for your glucose levels.
Read more about blood sugar monitoring here.
Ideally, your blood sugar will be 80–130 mg/dL before a meal and less than 180 mg/dL after a meal.
Most people can manage their diabetes in a way that stops their blood sugar levels from ever getting too high. The following tips can help:
Eat a consistent diet
Maintain a steady carbohydrate intake, avoiding “empty calorie” foods, such as processed foods, whenever possible.
Foods high in dietary fiber help keep your blood sugar levels steady.
For a balanced diet, eat plenty of the following:
- whole grains
- lean proteins
Get consistent exercise
Engage in physical activity that gets your heart pumping for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
Read about how exercise can benefit people with diabetes.
High stress levels can increase your blood sugar. Try out some relaxation methods to keep stress in check. These might include:
- listening to music
- taking a short walk
- any other activity you especially enjoy
Read about ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Drink plenty of water. If your urine is yellow, you’re likely dehydrated. Avoid drinking too many sugary soft drinks or sugary juices as well.
Get a good night’s rest
High quality restorative sleep can help reduce stress and balance blood sugar levels.
Turn off your electronic devices an hour before bed and sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet room for a better night’s rest.
See your doctor
Make sure you see your doctor to test your A1C levels at recommended intervals.
This is a measure of how consistent your blood sugar is over a 3-month period. Knowing your A1C can provide clues as to how effectively you’re managing your diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight
Losing excess fat can reduce the amount of metabolically active tissue in your body. This makes blood sugar levels easier to maintain.
If you’re having difficulty managing your weight, talk to your doctor or consider seeing a dietitian for tips specific to your dietary needs.
Stick to your medication and insulin regimen
Skipping a dose of medication or insulin can be harmful to your body and increase your blood sugar levels.
It’s important to stick to your treatment plan and follow your doctor’s instructions for taking your medication.
Healthful lifestyle habits can help people manage their blood sugar levels over the long term, such as eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, staying hydrated, and getting good sleep.
Administering insulin and exercising are two of the most common ways to get blood sugar levels down.
However, if someone has ketones in their urine or symptoms of excessively high blood sugar, they may need to go to the emergency room.
If you’re having difficulty managing with your diabetes, you can call the American Diabetes Association’s helpline at 1-800-342-2383 for referrals and advice.