Going high? Mealtime challenges and hyperglycaemia (hypers)
The experience of living under lockdown due to COVID-19 has created new and varied challenges for us all. How can I continue to work during isolation? How do I look after and home school my children? What can I do to maintain my physical and mental health? These are just some of the questions we are all seeking to answer, and the impact on our lives and daily routines is significant.
This is especially true for those living with long-term conditions requiring careful monitoring and management, such as diabetes. Changing patterns of eating and exercising, reduced access to regular medical support, and coping with the stress of the current situation can all have an impact on how effectively you manage your condition. Eating the wrong food, difficulty in being able to exercise in your usual way, or forgetting a dose of your medication can potentially put you at risk of experiencing high blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycaemia or “hypers.”
This article provides information to help you understand the signs of experiencing a hyper, as well as some ideas for how you can try to prevent your blood sugar levels from getting above your optimal range.
How to spot a hyper – common symptoms
The most common symptoms of experiencing a hyper include:
- tiredness and lethargy
- passing more urine than usual (peeing more)
- being very thirsty
- blurred vision
You may experience one or more of these symptoms when your blood sugar levels are high, or a family member or friend might mention that you do not quite seem your usual self.
It may take a few days or weeks for the symptom(s) to develop while some people may not show any symptoms despite elevated blood sugar levels, specifically those who have had diabetes for a longer period.
As very high blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications, it is therefore very important to regularly check your blood sugar at home. This is easy to manage and should only be started following a discussion with your doctor or nurse. They can advise whether home monitoring is suitable for you and the available options, explain what you need to do, and how often. Should you notice that your blood sugar level is elevated during home monitoring, consult with your doctor or nurse.
More information on hyperglycaemia, its symptoms and potential impact can be found on the Diabetes UK website.
Helping reduce the risk of hypers
Having a daily routine is one of the best ways to help you adapt to your new life during this unprecedented situation. As you are likely to be preparing most of your meals at home, you may even find it easier to manage your mealtimes and the amount of insulin you may need.
Creating a daily routine, planning your mealtimes and trying to avoid snacking, plus having planned time to check your blood sugar levels and take your insulin will help you to spend more time within your ideal blood sugar range and help to reduce the risk of hypers.
Try to still exercise at home if you cannot get outside much – even 10 minutes a day of physical activity will be beneficial to your physical and mental wellbeing. There are many online fitness classes that you may wish to try. More ideas can be found in the “Exercise and type 2 diabetes” article.
Coping with stressful times
Prolonged periods of emotional stress can also lead to changes in blood sugar levels. If you’re feeling stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones make it harder for insulin to regulate blood sugar level properly and can lead to an increase in your blood sugar level.
Therefore, it is recommended to try to manage your stress levels during this challenging time by doing things you like or that help you relax, such as reading, meditating, yoga, or perhaps something creative like drawing and painting. Spending time with any pets you may have can also help ease any worries and stress.
Diabetes What’s Next has some useful articles on dealing with stress and feeling anxious that you may find interesting, as well as this interview with Dr. Frank Snoek if you are finding life under lockdown is affecting your mental wellbeing.
What to do if you experience a hyper
If you start to feel unwell or notice some of the typical symptoms of hypers, first check your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar levels are too high, you will need to consult with your doctor to adjust your medication(s) accordingly.
There are many potential causes for hypers, including:
Not using enough or missing a dose of your insulin or other diabetes medication(s)
- Eating more carbohydrates than your routine eating plan
- Feeling emotionally stressed
- Being unwell due to an infection or injury
If you experience frequent high blood sugar levels, you can also try to remember to:
- Check your blood sugar more often than usual, specifically before and after your meals
- Look for patterns in your blood sugar results to understand what might be causing it
Learn more about how to monitor your blood sugar and track how your body reacts to food, exercise and medication.
If you are having difficulties in controlling your blood sugar levels and they are regularly too high, it’s important to speak to your doctor or nurse. They can offer tips and advice, or they may need to adjust your medication(s).
This is general disease awareness and should not be understood as medical advice. If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 or have questions, doubts or concerns, you should contact your doctor. Always follow the advice of local authorities.