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Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences

September 27, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by

When monitoring your blood sugar, think of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Blood sugar, or glucose, levels that are too high could lead to “hyperglycemia,” blood sugar levels dipping too low could lead to “hypoglycemia.”

The key to avoiding both is to find the Goldilocks balance, otherwise, it could lead to many problems. Understanding the differences between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia as well as how they work should not only encourage a healthier lifestyle but also create a better mood.

Online discussions about the two sugar levels have created misconceptions and confusion about the differences and what causes them. 

This topic isn’t isolated to people with diabetes. Anyone can experience hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

To understand why, let's discuss what they are and the differences between the two.

What is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when glucose levels drop below healthy levels in the bloodstream.  This can be especially troubling for those with diabetes and can prevent their bodies from getting the glucose they need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, glucose is necessary to supply the body’s red blood cells with energy and reduce the chances of long-term risks of experiencing severe health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease

So how do you avoid those unwanted side effects? The answer is maintaining a healthy glucose level, but that level can vary depending on your situation.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

For those with diabetes, glucose levels falling below 70 are considered low. For those without diabetes, glucose levels below 55 with hypoglycemic symptoms are considered dangerous. Symptoms to monitor for include:

  • Hunger
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shakiness
  • Excess sweating
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Headaches

Why Hypoglycemia Occurs in People without Diabetes

Yes, people without diabetes can experience hypoglycemia in two different instances.

The first is reactive hypoglycemia, which occurs when blood sugar levels drop in the hours following a meal and can be an early sign of diabetes.

The second is fasting hypoglycemia. This occurs when you are refraining from eating or when you’re sleeping. Several factors can cause this, including some medications like Beta-blockers or some antibiotics, excess alcohol, hypocortisolism, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, menopause, pancreatic tumors, and anorexia.

Those who suffer from obesity, those who are prediabetic, have a family history of diabetes, or have a genetic predisposition for diabetes are at risk for non-diabetic hypoglycemia.

Why Hypoglycemia Occurs in People with Diabetes

Hypoglycemia commonly occurs in people with diabetes if they take too much insulin.  This is especially common in Type 1 diabetes. However, anything that reduces the bodily intake of sugar can cause hypoglycemia.

According to the CDC, this includes not eating enough carbohydrates, drinking alcohol, or excessive physical activity without adjusting medications.

Ways to Prevent Hypoglycemia 

There’s a lot you can do to stave off the effects of hypoglycemia.

Understand Your Current Medication's Impact On Your Blood Sugar Levels

As mentioned previously, certain medications can reduce blood sugar levels. If you’re using insulin, Beta-blockers, or ACE/inhibitors, talk to your doctor about these medications. 

Compensate for Increases in Physical Activity / Working Out

Physical activity is crucial in maintaining a healthy body, and the more you do it, the more energy you burn. That means less glucose for your body. However, the catch-22 is less exercise means more available glucose. So if you are planning on exercising more, be sure to increase the number of meals or food you eat, as well.

Regularly Monitor Your Blood Glucose Levels

Of course, none of this is effective unless you’re keeping an eye on your glucose levels. Using a CGM, you can directly see which foods have the greatest impact on you and which ones you could cut out. In recent years continuous glucose monitoring technology has improved significantly. Plus, they’re pretty easy to use. Read more about the four best CGMs at NutriSense.  

Avoid Refined Carbohydrates

Reactive hypoglycemia can occur when people eat too much sugar or starch, such as candy, chips, or bread, and their pancreas overcompensates by pumping out too much insulin, which plummets their blood sugar below healthy levels and causes the symptoms of low blood sugar. Choosing balanced meals instead, such as those containing protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates, can help lead to an even glucose response. 

What is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia, otherwise known as high blood glucose, occurs when too much sugar is in the bloodstream. Insulin is the body’s janitor for sweeping up and disposing of glucose from the bloodstream. Hyperglycemia occurs most commonly when there is a lazy janitor problem and the janitor is around but not doing their job or doing it poorly. 

Common Signs and Symptoms of Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia can lead to severe long-term health problems. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms are according to the CDC:

  • Thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches and brain fog
  • Increased cravings for carbs and sweets
  • “Hanger”
  • Poor energy levels or midday crashes
  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Slow-healing cuts

Why Hyperglycemia Occurs in People without Diabetes

Just like with hypoglycemia, anybody can experience hyperglycemia, not just diabetics.

Blood sugar measuring higher than 200 mg/dl is considered too much glucose in the bloodstream. It’s not uncommon for people to experience high blood sugar levels at some point during the day.

Researchers found that 93% of individuals reached dangerous glucose levels, with 10% of that sample spending two hours a day at that level.

A glucose spike can happen for any number of reasons, including high-intensity exercise and stress. Foods like artificial sweeteners and coffee could play a role, as well.   

Why Hyperglycemia Occurs in People with Diabetes

As mentioned before, different foods and high-intensity exercise can trigger hyperglycemia in a person with diabetes. In the case of type 1 diabetics, the body can’t increase its insulin level during a glucose spike.

How to Prevent Hyperglycemia

Exercising Regularly

Maintaining a healthy amount of exercise can help keep hyperglycemia at bay. Regular exercise encourages your body to burn more energy than usual, and therefore consume more glucose.

Improve Your Diet to be Glucose-Friendly

Improving your diet to be more glucose-friendly can be a great way to keep your blood sugar balanced. One way to do that is to avoid processed foods. While food impacts will vary from person to person, research indicates processed foods high in sugar and fat can increase blood glucose. Also, the frequency at which you eat could have an impact. A 2013 study found that eating two large meals per day compared to six small meals did more to reduce blood glucose.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. One cause of hyperglycemia can also be unintentional, rapid weight loss. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you’re aiming to lose weight, be sure to establish a routine that you can stick to. That way, your body can lose weight without any unintended stress.

Take Your Medications Regularly

Be aware of what medications you’re putting in your body. Some medications can disrupt insulin’s effectiveness. Medications like steroids and beta-blockers are the usual suspects. Second-generation antipsychotics and certain antibiotics can also be high-blood-sugar inducing culprits. 

Try NutriSense to Monitor Your Blood Glucose and Personal Health

Ultimately, you can only get an idea of your glucose level if you have a way of keeping an eye on it. Continuous glucose monitors can help do that. The CDC recommends checking your glucose level even if you’re not showing symptoms because how you feel may not accurately depict how your body is handling its blood sugar. 

Two people may have differing opinions about how cold or hot a body of water may feel during a swim. Only a thermometer can give you the exact temperature, just as a CGM can give you the exact data you need to keep your blood sugar in line. NutriSense has brought this technology in an easy-to-understand format with their memberships. 

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
Understanding Hyperglycemia vs. Hypoglycemia and How to Recognize the Differences
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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Glucose-Friendly Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks

Looking for a way to add apple cider vinegar into your diet? Start with some of these delicious glucose-friendly ACV drinks, recommended by our Nutrition Team.

Story
8
min
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Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 
Benefits of Walking After Eating: From Regulating Blood Sugar To Lowering Blood Pressure 

Find out how taking a walk after your next meal can benefit various aspects of your health, including your blood glucose levels.

Podcast
55
min
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I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology
I Think, I Can—Using Technology as a Window Into Your Physiology

Molly explains how using a continuous glucose monitor is what personalized health care means. If you want to fine-tune your health, tune in to this special episode of I Think, I Can.

Podcast
10
min
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My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles
My Day | My Life: Nutritionist Carlee Hayes' Canine Cuddles

My Day | My Life explores the lives of people who have, in one way or another, mastered the art of aging. In this episode, meet Carlee Hayes, dietitian and Nutrition Manager at NutriSense.

Story
9
min
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Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Worried about getting injured during your next workout? Learn about the most common workout injuries, how they can affect blood glucose levels, and some tips to help you prevent them.

Story
6
min
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Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day
Eat with NutriSense This St. Patrick's Day

Would eating the same meal, at the same time, have the same blood glucose response for three different people? See what our team found out after sampling a delicious corned beef and cabbage dish in preparation for St. Patrick's Day!

Story
7
min
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Build Healthy Habits During Lent
Build Healthy Habits During Lent

Do you know what you're giving up for Lent this year? For those who observe it, this can be a good time to give up bad habits, and add healthy ones into your routine! Read on to find out more about how to build healthy habits this season.

Story
11
min
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Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?
Do You Know How Healthy Your Breakfast Cereal Is?

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast foods out there—but how healthy is it, really? Review the nutritional content of some popular breakfast cereals, and learn how to choose a healthy option for your individual needs.

Story
9
min
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Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition
Obesity: What You Should Know and Some New Research on the Condition

Did you know that more than two in five adults have obesity? Find out more about the pressing public health issue, review some new research that is shedding light on the condition, and learn how to diagnose and treat it.

Story
7
min
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

Story
9
min
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Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?
Vinegar and Blood Sugar: Does It Lower It?

Read on to find out what impact, if any, vinegar really has on our body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

Story
8
min
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Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?
Meal Frequency and Insulin Sensitivity: How Many Times Should You be Eating in a Day?

If you have insulin sensitivity, is eating two large meals a day or three to five smaller meals better? Find out more about the relationship between meal frequency and insulin sensitivity, and how many times you should be eating in a day.

Story
9
min
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Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis
Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a common yet often ignored condition. Learn more about the symptoms to watch out for, how you can seek treatment, and read first-hand accounts from two women who have dealt with endometriosis.

Story
8
min
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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

Story
7
min
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Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?
Can Eating Pizza Raise Your Blood Glucose Levels?

Pizza can be challenging to enjoy eating without worrying about how it affects your health. But while it may be indulgent, it is possible to prepare or order it in a way that won’t wreak havoc on your health or blood sugar levels. Read on to find out more!

Story
8
min
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Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?
Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Insulin Levels?

Review our post on the impacts artificial sweeteners have on blood glucose, insulin, and other areas of your personal health.

Story
8
min
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What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels
What Research Says About Sleep and Blood Sugar Levels

Recent research has shown that sleep and blood glucose are intricately connected. Read on to learn more about what this means for your blood sugar levels and overall health.

Story
8
min
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Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health
Understanding the Relationship Between Menopause and Metabolic Health

Did you know that menopause can affect your metabolic health, and vice versa? Read on to understand the relationship between metabolic health and menopause, and how to manage metabolic health during your menopausal journey. 

Podcast
57
min
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How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet
How a Continuous Blood Sugar Monitor Can Help You Find Your Perfect Diet

In this episode learn the truth about how we react to certain foods in regards to our blood sugar response and how you can tailor your diet according to your CGM results.

Podcast
66
min
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All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN
All About Blood Sugar With Molly Downey, RDN

This week, dive into how to eat your carbs and manage your blood sugar, too with Molly Downey, RDN, LDN.

Story
8
min
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A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples
A NutriSense Dietitian's Favorite Kitchen Staples

Food can be fun, pleasurable, and nutritious all at the same time. Read on to learn more about the two nutrient-dense kitchen staples one of our dietitians swears by to help optimize her health!

Story
10
min
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10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World
10 Tastiest Nutrient-Dense Foods From Around the World

Instead of the type or amount of food you eat, you should focus on the amount of nutrients you're adding to every meal. Here are some of our favorite nutrient-dense foods from around the world to help you get started.

Story
7
min
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Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Do Pineapples Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Learn everything you need to know about pineapples, your health, and your blood glucose levels, and see how our dietitians like to eat the sweet, tropical fruit. 

Story
14
min
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Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]
Setting Up The Right Diet Plan For Prediabetes [+Sample Diet Plan Included]

Learn more about the relationship between prediabetes and your diet, and see how to build a diet plan that works for you with some great tips, tricks and recipes from our nutrition team!

Story
9
min
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What You Should Know About Acupuncture
What You Should Know About Acupuncture

Learn more about the research on, as well as the benefits and risks of acupuncture, a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting needles into your body for pain and stress relief.

Story
6
min
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Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]
Triglycerides and Blood Glucose [+Tips to Lower Triglyceride Levels]

Learn everything you need to know about the relationship between triglycerides levels and blood glucose.


Story
5
min
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A Guide to Ayurveda
A Guide to Ayurveda

From acupuncture to chiropractic treatments and homeopathy to holistic healing, complementary and alternative medicine is increasing in popularity. Read on to learn more about Ayurveda, a healing system that originated in India thousands of years ago.  

Story
7
min
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Sugar and Cholesterol: Does Sugar Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?
Sugar and Cholesterol: Does Sugar Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?

Learn about the impact sugar has on your cholesterol levels and ways to manage your sugar intake.