[Skip to Content]

Diabetes and High Blood Sugar

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD

A kind of sugar called glucose (say: GLOO-kose) is the body's main source of energy. Having too much glucose in the blood isn’t healthy, especially for kids with diabetes. Doctors call high blood sugar hyperglycemia (say: hi-per-gly-SEE-me-uh).

Glucose comes from the foods you eat. It gets inside your cells with help from a hormone called insulin. Kids with diabetes have trouble making or using insulin (say: IN-suh-lin). When there’s not enough insulin, glucose stays in the blood, and blood sugar levels go up.

How Can Blood Sugars Get Too High?

Different things can cause blood sugars to go up. Kids with diabetes can have high blood sugar if they:

  • miss their diabetes medicine or take the wrong amount
  • eat too many carbohydrates without adjusting their insulin
  • don’t get enough exercise
  • are sick (like with the flu), or are under stress
  • take some types of medicines that can raise blood sugar

What Are the Signs of High Blood Sugar Levels?

Kids with high blood sugar may:

  • pee a lot: That’s because the kidneys flush out the extra glucose into your urine (pee).
  • drink a lot: If you pee a lot, you lose fluid, and that makes you very thirsty.
  • feel tired: If the body can't use glucose for energy, you get really tired.

Some kids can have high blood sugar levels without even knowing it. That’s why it’s important to check your blood sugar levels a few times a day, even when you feel fine.

How Are High Blood Sugar Levels Treated?

Your doctor will tell you what to do for high blood sugar levels. You might need to take medicine, change what you’re eating, or get more exercise. It depends on what’s causing it.

Don’t worry about having high blood sugar levels once in a while. But if it happens a lot, talk with your diabetes care team to figure out how to get your sugar levels back to a healthy range.

What Can Happen if High Blood Sugars Get Too High?

Very high blood sugars can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (say: kee-toh-ah-sih-DOH-sis), or DKA. DKA is when the body doesn’t have enough fuel (sugar) to give it energy, so it uses fat instead. When the body uses fat, it makes chemicals called ketones (say: KEE-tones). Ketones can make a person very sick.

What Are the Symptoms of DKA?

If a person has high blood sugar and doesn’t recognize the signs, it can turn into DKA.

Signs of DKA include:

  • belly pain
  • nausea or throwing up
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • trouble breathing
  • confusion

Sometimes DKA can feel like the flu or another illness. If you feel sick, it’s a good time to check your pee for ketones.

How Is DKA Treated?

A person with DKA must go the hospital right away to get insulin and fluids by IV (a tube that goes into a vein).

What Can Help Prevent High Blood Sugars and DKA?

The best way to prevent high blood sugars and DKA is to follow your diabetes care plan. The plan includes checking your blood sugar levels several times a day. Ask your care team to help you follow your plan.

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: January 2024