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Hyperglycaemia (hypers) and mealtime challenges

The experience of living under lockdown due to COVID-19 has created new and varied challenges for us all, many of which may be here to stay as we adapt to life beyond COVID-19. Our lives and daily routines have been severely affected. We had to learn to work in isolation or in busy households, look after, and home school our children, and maintain our physical and mental health all at the same time.

Such disruption to routines can be very stressful, especially for those living with long-term conditions that require careful monitoring, such as diabetes

This could result in eating the wrong food, difficulty in being able to exercise in your usual way or forgetting a dose of your medication, which can potentially put you at risk of experiencing high blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycaemia or ’hypers’1,2.

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 above your optimal range. 

How to spot high blood sugar levels (hyper)

The most common symptoms of experiencing a hyper include2:

  • 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 may mention that you do not quite seem your usual self. 

  

“My friends have been a real big help. Usually they’ll be able to tell when I am high or low, judging by the way I speak to them or the way I make decisions.”

-Jack and his mother, Sue, share their experiences on recognising when he is having a ‘hyper’

“My friends have been a real big help. Usually they’ll be able to tell when I am high or low, judging by the way I speak to them or the way I make decisions.”

-Jack and his mother, Sue, share their experiences on recognising when he is having a ‘hyper’

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 period2.

As very high blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications, it is therefore very important to regularly check your blood sugar at home3,4. 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 hypers2.

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 wellbeing5. 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 as a person with diabetes

Prolonged periods of emotional stress can also lead to changes in blood sugar levels6. If you’re feeling stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline6. These hormones make it harder for insulin to regulate blood sugar level properly and can lead to an increase in your blood sugar level5,6.

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 high blood sugar levels – (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) accordingly2.

There are many potential causes for hypers, including2:

  • 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 to2:

  • 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 may 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)2.

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.

In this article you will find links to third-party material not owned or controlled by Novo Nordisk. We are not responsible for the content or the accuracy of the information provided and have no control over the privacy policies or terms of use of such third-party sites.

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References
  1. Griffin T, Grey EB, Lambert J, et al. Life in lockdown: a qualitative study exploring the experience of living through the initial COVID-19 lockdown in the UK and its impact on diet, physical activity and mental health. BMC Public Health. 2023;23. 
  2. NHS UK. Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar). Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-sugar-hyperglycaemia/. Last accessed: February 2024. 
  3. Diabetes UK. Diabetes and Heart Disease. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications/cardiovascular_disease Last accessed: February 2024. 
  4. Diabetes UK. Pre and Post Meal Testing. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/features/pre-and-post-meal-testing.html. Last accessed: Febuary 2024. 
  5. Diabetes.co.uk. Diabetes and Stress. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-destress.html. Last accessed: February 2024. 
  6. Diabetes Education Online, Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California. Blood Sugar & Stress. Available at: https://dtc.ucsf.edu/types-of-diabetes/type2/understanding-type-2-diabetes/how-the-body-processes-sugar/blood-sugar-stress/. Last accessed February 2024.

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