Hypoglycemia vs Hyperglycemia: How to Tell the Difference

    Updated 21 January 2020 |
    Published 03 December 2019
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    There are two main concerns when it comes to blood sugar: Does your body have too much or too little? When it comes to hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia, do you know the difference? Read on to discover how these conditions are caused and treated. 

    What is hypoglycemia?

    Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar. The Latin word “hypo” means “below.” When your blood glucose levels drop, your body can no longer function normally and experiences a range of symptoms. The symptoms may be mild or very intense and even life-threatening.

    Everybody is different, so your normal blood sugar level may be slightly different from someone else’s. Generally, however, if your blood sugar is lower than 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), then your body is hypoglycemic. 

    Some people may not experience any symptoms, and others may have symptoms so severe they need immediate medical attention. Symptoms appear quickly after your blood sugar drops below your normal range. Hypoglycemia can be very dangerous because if your blood sugar is too low, your symptoms can render you unconscious or unable to get help. 

    Hypoglycemia is a common concern for people with Type 1 diabetes, who already struggle with maintaining proper blood sugar levels. With Type 1 diabetes, there is autoimmune destruction of β-cells in the pancreas; insulin is always necessary for treatment; it usually is not associated with obesity, and conditions such as ketoacidosis are common. 

    What is hyperglycemia?

    The word “hyper” in hyperglycemia means “above normal.” When your blood sugar is higher than the normal range (fasting plasma glucose ≥126 mg/dL) on two separate tests, your body experiences hyperglycemia. 

    If you experience symptoms of hyperglycemia, it means that your body’s insulin is not capable of removing enough sugar from your blood to keep it in a normal range. This can be because your body isn’t producing enough insulin or because your insulin is not working properly due to insulin resistance. 

    Health issues like kidney and eye disease, heart attacks, and even strokes can happen if your blood sugar is too high for too long.

    Staying in a hyperglycemic state for long periods of time can be severely damaging to the body. Health issues like kidney and eye disease, heart attacks, and even strokes can happen if your blood sugar is too high for too long.

    Many people with diabetes need to watch their blood sugar levels carefully. Certain medications and food choices make it difficult for a diabetic body to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

    Hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia: key differences

    Both of these conditions can affect people who have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. They can also affect people who are not diabetic. Both concern the glucose levels in the body, but they have some key differences. Some of the key differences between hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia are:

    • Hypoglycemia is abnormally low levels of blood glucose (lower than 70 milligrams per deciliter).
    • Hyperglycemia is abnormally high levels of blood glucose (fasting plasma glucose ≥126 milligrams per deciliter on two separate tests).
    • Hypoglycemia can cause confusion, seizures, coma, and even death.
    • Long-term hyperglycemia can cause nerve damage, circulation disorders, strokes, and heart attacks.

    The health concerns are very different when comparing low blood sugar and high blood sugar. The common dangers are that if the glucose levels remain too high or too low for too long, your body begins to suffer, and you may no longer be capable of getting help.


    Your blood sugar can change rapidly due to medications, diet, or activity levels. Symptoms of high or low blood sugar can happen soon after your glucose levels stray into the extreme ranges. 

    Symptoms for both of these conditions can range from mild to severe. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all, but most people do experience some of them. 

    Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

    • Sweating
    • Shakiness
    • Hunger
    • Weakness
    • Dizziness
    • Irritability
    • Headache
    • Blurred vision
    • Confusion
    • Slurred speech
    • Fainting
    • Irregular or fast heartbeat
    • Seizures
    • Coma

    Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:

    • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
    • Increased urination (polyuria)
    • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
    • Fatigue
    • Anxiety
    • Blurred vision
    • Frequent infections
    • Slow healing for cuts and sores
    • Excessive hunger (polyphagia)
    • Unexplained weight loss

    Comparing the symptoms of hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia can help you determine if you experience either one or the other. If you have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you are at a higher risk of experiencing either one of these conditions. With Type 2 diabetes there is increased resistance to insulin and progressive pancreatic β-cell failure; insulin is sometimes necessary for treatment; it’s usually associated with obesity, and ketoacidosis is rare. If you have experienced some of these symptoms before or experience them frequently, be sure to talk to your medical professional and have your glucose levels tested. 


    Even though the root of both of these issues is your body’s blood glucose levels, there are different causes of hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia. 

    Causes of hypoglycemia:

    • Overdose of diabetes medications and insulin
    • Not eating enough carbs
    • Skipping a meal
    • Sudden increased physical activity
    • Drinking too much alcohol with not enough food

    Causes of hyperglycemia:

    • Eating too much food at one time
    • Not enough physical activity
    • Skipped diabetes medication
    • Not enough insulin
    • Using insulin that has been spoiled by heat or cold
    • Stress
    • Illness
    • Infection or injury
    • An inaccurate blood glucose meter reading


    Just as the symptoms and causes of these conditions are different, so too are the treatments of hypoglycemia vs hyperglycemia. 

    The first thing you can do if you feel either set of symptoms is to check your blood glucose levels. Once you check your blood sugar number, you can tell if you are experiencing either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia and start treatment accordingly. 

    The first thing you can do if you feel either set of symptoms is to check your blood glucose levels.

    If you have checked your blood sugar and the glucose levels are lower than normal, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Before that, you can try to eat or drink around 15 grams of carbohydrates immediately. Some good examples of 15 grams of carbs include:

    • Four glucose tablets
    • One tube of glucose gel
    • Half a cup of orange juice
    • Half a can of soda
    • One tablespoon of sugar or honey
    • Two tablespoons of raisins

    The trick with quick treatment for low blood sugar is to ingest a few carbs, wait 15 minutes, and check your blood sugar again. If it’s not at the right level, then take another dose of carbs, wait 15 minutes, and check again. Orange juice is a great way to raise your blood sugar in a pinch, but it contains high amounts of potassium. This is great for the average person, but if you happen to have kidney disease, too much potassium can put excess stress on your kidneys. Swap orange juice for apple, grape, or cranberry juice if you have kidney problems. 

    If you are experiencing symptoms and your blood sugar is higher than it should be, then it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Some actions you can take include:

    • Drink more water regularly
    • Measure your food and stick to your schedule
    • Increase your physical activity
    • Take your medications at the right times in the right doses
    • Check your blood meter and ensure it is working properly

    If you regularly experience either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, there are some helpful life changes you can make. You need to monitor what you eat, how much you consume in one meal, and how often you have your meals. You may need to take medications and change your activity level. 

    These new habits can be hard to remember, so try to keep a journal at first. Write down your new habits and keep track of them daily. You can bring this journal in with you when you have a check-up with your physician. They can use it to determine if you may need a medication change or different foods based on what symptoms you still experience after a while.


    Some of the most severe symptoms you can experience with these conditions can render you unable to care for yourself. When you have severe symptoms, complications include:

    • Being unable to eat or drink
    • Being too weak to give yourself an injection
    • Being unconscious and unable to call for help

    No matter how careful you are, you may find that you are unable to care for yourself at one point or another due to blood sugar issues. If you have either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, you can take extra measures to ensure you’ll be safe. 

    Talk to your friends, family, and coworkers about your condition. If you have emergency shots, educate them on how to administer them and to call 911 immediately after if you become unresponsive. Let them know your more severe symptoms so they can call for help if you need it. 


    Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and your family history. If you have hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, your doctor can give you tests to determine the best course of treatment to keep your blood sugar in the normal range. 

    There are a few things you can do to help prevent severe symptoms and complications. Keep a journal of your food, medication, and activity levels. Make notes on how you’re feeling, and note any symptoms you do experience. Keep track of the timing of your activities, meals, and medication. Your doctor can use this journal to see what treatments are working and what they may want to change to help you feel better.

    Keep a journal of your food, medication, and activity levels. Make notes on how you’re feeling, and note any symptoms you do experience.

    Another preventive measure you can take is to wear a medical bracelet. This lets emergency personnel know what condition you have. If you are in an emergency situation and your condition renders you unable to communicate or unconscious, medical personnel can read your bracelet and give you the treatment you need.

    The best measure you can take is honesty. Be honest with your medical professional. Let them know how you feel, what you eat, what you drink, and how much exercise you get each day. Stick to their food plans and medication schedules so they can see what’s working.


    Blood sugar plays a very big role in our health, and what we do every day can affect it. The blood must maintain a healthy sugar level, and though glucose is important for healthy brain function, too much or too little in the blood can cause health problems.

    If you experience any of the symptoms of either hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, be sure to share your symptoms with your medical professional. If you have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, let your doctor know if you are experiencing these symptoms regularly so they can check your medications. Take preventive measures so you can reduce your symptoms and lower the chance of having an emergency. Knowing the symptoms and causes of either of these conditions can give you time to find a solution.

    History of updates

    Current version (21 January 2020)

    Published (03 December 2019)

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