Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia: What’s the Difference?

Séverine LEMOINEBlood Sugar Management

Operating as the powerhouse of our bodies, our blood is an outstandingly vast and intricate system. If laid out, our circulatory system alone would cover over a staggering 66,000 miles!

Blood has many functions, but a key component of whether it is working properly or not comes down to the amounts of sugar found in it. The conditions related to blood sugar are called hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia However, with their similar-sounding names, it could be easy to confuse them. 

So what are they, and what are their main differences?

Let us fill you in on all you need to know. 

Understanding the Body’s Blood Sugar Management System

To understand both of these conditions, it is beneficial to have a working understanding of the blood sugar management process in our bodies.

We rely on glucose to give our cells and our bodies the energy they need to keep us functioning. The main source of this is via the food we eat, although our body stores latent amounts of glucose in our muscles and liver should we not eat for some time. 

The most important food group related to our blood sugar levels are carbohydrates, which, when processed, are turned into glucose. Yet, our cells cannot absorb the all-important glucose without some assistance. This is where insulin comes in.

Much like a key to a locked door, insulin produced in our pancreas allows cells to take in the glucose that our body needs. Once absorbed, the cells then turn the glucose into energy or keep it for later use.

This amazingly efficient system, when working correctly, can regulate how much insulin is needed at any given time. It considers our daily activity, rising and lowering the amount we need depending on if we have eaten or done any strenuous physical activity. 

Without eating, the fasting rate of blood sugar is approximately 100 mg/dL.  

Given that blood sugar management affects every cell in our bodies, from our head to our toes, the importance of maintaining a normal blood sugar level is indisputable and one that we all should pay attention to. 

What Is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is when we have a high blood sugar level. This is diagnosed if we have a fasting glucose level of more than 126 mg/dL and a standard glucose sugar level above 200 mg/dL.

This happens either because our bodies cannot produce enough insulin to prevent a buildup of sugar in our bloodstream, or our cells have become insulin resistant. 

The reasons for it to happen are also dependant of someone is diabetic or not. High blood sugar levels are synonymous with diabetes on a whole, but the reasons behind them vary dependant on if you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 is defined by the body not being able to produce enough insulin. For this reason, those with type one diabetes need to take in insulin, particularly after eating when their blood sugar level spikes. 

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is when cells in the body become insulin resistant. Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1, accounting for 90-95% of diabetes cases in the US. Although it is so common, it is unclear as to the reasons why people develop the condition, although diet and lack of exercise are seen to be primary factors. 

It is possible for someone who is not diabetic, however, to develop insulin resistance or prediabetes, both of which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause blood sugar levels to rise, as well as having an infection which can lead to increase levels of stress hormones which can affect insulin regulation. 

Symptoms of hyperglycemia to look out for include headaches and confusion, extreme thirst, weakness, frequent urination, and a dry mouth, among other things.

What Is Hypoglycemia?

At certain times our blood sugar may drop to dangerously low levels leading to high amounts of insulin in our bloodstream. This is called hypoglycemia. We fall into this category when our blood sugar drops below 70 mg/dL, and it is considered dangerous when dropping below 54 mg/dL. 

But why does this happen? Well, it depends on if someone is diabetic or not.

If you don’t have diabetes, then there are many reasons why your blood sugar may drop.

Perhaps the most common reason is down to not eating enough. We are all familiar with that groggy feeling that we may have if we haven’t had a meal for some time. Simply put, the lack of glucose means that our tank is running on empty, and the light-headed feeling we experience is a warning sign for us to take in the fuel that we need.

This being said, for blood sugar levels to get to a significantly low level, we would need to have not eaten for 8 hours or more. 

Other common reasons include exercise and overdrinking. When we exercise or exert ourselves to an excessive level, we can use up all our available glucose stores, leading to a drop in blood sugar. In addition, if we binge drink, it can greatly disrupt the liver’s function in processing glucose for our bodies.  

If someone has diabetes, then hypoglycemia can happen if they take in too much insulin or, much like anyone else, they haven’t eaten or have increased their amount of physical activity.   

Signs of hypoglycemia include confusion and headaches, much like hypoglycemia, but also trouble concentrating, hunger, sweating, and in severe cases, seizures and the loss of consciousness. 

The Importance of Regulating Your Blood Sugar

Given its importance, it is clear that a good understanding of our blood sugar should be fundamental to all. We hope this breakdown has been insightful to your understanding of how your wonderful body works. 

If you are living with either hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, a key factor is taking in fuel that can help regulate your blood sugar levels regularly. Pep2dia does just that, as well as being tasty in the process. Find out more about it here.