Glucose, or sugar, is your body’s main source of fuel. As glucose travels through your bloodstream, it’s called blood glucose. When blood glucose levels deviate from your target range, you can experience hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia—both of which can result in serious short- and long-term complications if left untreated.
Learning about the difference between hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia—and how to prevent, detect, and treat them—is one of the most important things to learn when you’re starting your diabetes management journey.
The Difference Between Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
Glycemia refers to the presence, or level, of glucose in the blood. The prefixes “hypo” and “hyper” mean “under” or ”beneath” and “above” or ”beyond,” respectively. In other words, hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose levels are too low and hyperglycemia occurs when blood glucose levels are too high.
While your optimal blood glucose range should be determined with the guidance of your healthcare team, the American Diabetes Association recommends the following targets for nonpregnant adults living with diabetes:
- Before a meal (preprandial plasma glucose): 80–130 mg/dL
- One to two hours after the beginning of a meal (postprandial plasma glucose): less than 180 mg/dL
Therefore, hypoglycemia is usually defined as blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dL while hyperglycemia is usually defined as blood glucose greater than 125 mg/dL while fasting and greater than 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal.
But keep in mind that it’s normal for your blood glucose levels to fluctuate within these ranges throughout the day depending on factors such as diet, exercise, and medications, and if your levels go below or above your target range, you may experience hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, respectively.
Differences Between Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia: Causes and Symptoms
Everyone’s body reacts differently to low and high blood glucose events. But here are several potential causes and symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.
While this list can help you to detect blood glucose events, it’s important to learn how your body experiences hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. Writing down your symptoms can help you and your healthcare team better detect blood glucose events in the future.
Detecting Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
If hypoglycemia is left untreated, the brain is starved of glucose, which can lead to seizures, coma, and in rare cases, death. If hyperglycemia is left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis (diabetic coma), a serious, life-threatening diabetes complication, can occur. Which is why detecting and treating hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia as early as possible is essential.
Prevention and early detection of high and low blood glucose events may be achieved through routine blood glucose monitoring. Regular testing not only allows you to spot highs and lows to prevent serious complications but also provides you and your healthcare team with important insights into how specific factors affect your blood glucose levels and how well your treatment plan is working.
Treating Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia
Another key difference between hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia is how you go about treating them.
If you find that your blood glucose levels are below your normal range, it’s often recommended that you follow the 15-15 rule.
The 15-15 Rule
- Eat 15 grams of carbohydrates, and check blood glucose again after 15 minutes
- If your blood glucose is still low, eat another 15 grams of carbohydrates, and check your levels again after another 15 minutes
- Repeat until your blood glucose is within your target range
Once your blood glucose reaches your target range, it’s recommended that you eat a meal or snack to prevent your blood glucose from dropping again.
Examples of 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates include the following:
- Glucose tablets (follow instructions on the label)
- Glucose gel tube (follow instructions on the label)
- 4 ounces of fruit juice or regular soda
- 1 tablespoon of sugar or 3 sugar packets
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 4–6 pieces of hard candy (not sugar-free)
For blood glucose levels above your normal range, exercise is often used to lower blood glucose levels. However, if you have ketones in your urine, it’s recommended that you don’t exercise. You may also need to work with your healthcare team to reevaluate your overall diabetes management plan. This may involve changing your diabetes diet plan or changing the dose or timing of your medication or insulin.
Making Blood Glucose Monitoring a Priority
Learning about the difference between hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia is a great first step in your diabetes management journey. Fundamental to your ability to prevent, detect, and treat them is routine blood glucose monitoring—but frequent monitoring is often easier said than done. Things like difficulty handling test strips, issues keeping track of supplies, and time constraints may interfere with your ability to check as often as you should.
If this is the case for you, consider using an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM) such as POGO Automatic®. ABGMs are blood glucose monitors that automate the testing process and eliminate the need to handle separate lancets and test strips. This innovative approach simplifies the monitoring process and makes it easy to manage your diabetes.
Finding tools that make it easier for you to make monitoring your blood glucose a priority can help you stay on track with monitoring to help prevent and detect the highs and lows.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.