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Your head is pounding, you’re exhausted and weak, you can’t seem to gulp down enough water, and your brain feels a bit fuzzy. Sounds like a particularly rough hangover, right?

But if you went HAM on the ice cream recently, it’s probably not — you’re likely dealing with a blood sugar spike.

Unfortunately, sleeping it off isn’t really an option here. Blood sugar spikes can be scary and dangerous, so you’re going to want to get to the root of the problem pretty quickly (and maybe try not to spike those levels again).

If glucose builds up in your bloodstream, it can cause your blood sugar to spike. This happens when your insulin can’t keep up with the sugar overload.

Blood sugar spikes can also be the result of insulin production being out of whack in the first place, which is why people who have diabetes often experience them.

Glucose and insulin work hand in hand to keep you healthy. Almost any time you eat something, it’s broken down into glucose, which enters your cells to become fuel your body needs to keep running smoothly.

Insulin is supposed to help deliver glucose to your cells. But here’s the thing: if you have diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin effectively and doesn’t produce enough insulin, so glucose can’t get into your cells.

When that happens, the glucose hangs out in your bloodstream, building up to dangerously high levels.

The scary thing is that blood sugar spikes don’t just feel uncomfortable — they can also lead to serious long-term damage. If high blood sugar is a chronic issue and goes untreated, it can cause heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, and kidney failure.

It can also lead to ketoacidosis, a serious side effect of diabetes, which is not to be confused with trendy ketosis.

If you ignore high blood sugar for a long time, your cells start to use fat instead of glucose for fuel, which produces ketones. If you don’t have diabetes, this usually isn’t an issue. But if you do, your blood becomes too acidic, which can lead to diabetic coma or death.

In other words, this isn’t something you want to mess around with.

High blood sugar is never going to feel fantastic. At best, you’ll feel run down and weak, and at worst, you’ll end up in the hospital.

Here are some early symptoms to watch out for:

  • frequent urination
  • fatigue
  • increased thirst and dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability

Long-term symptoms are more serious and can include:

  • low energy
  • frequent infections of the gums, skin, and vagina
  • wounds and cuts that take a long time to heal
  • worsening vision

You might assume a blood sugar spike happens after you eat a ton of sugar. That would make sense and would be a simple explanation with an easy fix. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

Your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day, rising after you eat certain foods, such as carb-heavy ones like pasta and potatoes. If it’s consistently high, that’s when you need to start worrying.

There are several reasons this could happen (and some have nothing to do with food):

  • You skipped a dose of insulin or didn’t take enough.
  • You skipped your oral diabetes medication.
  • You have an illness or infection, like a cold or the flu. (When you’re sick, your body releases hormones to fight off germs that can also prevent insulin from doing its job correctly, leading to a spike.)
  • You’re extra stressed out.
  • You ate too many carbohydrates.
  • You haven’t been exercising.
  • You spent too much time in the sun and got a sunburn. (This can cause pain, which leads to physical stress.)
  • You skipped a meal the night before and didn’t adjust your insulin dose. (Your liver is overcompensating and has released too much glucose in an effort to fix the problem.)
  • The dawn phenomenon is at play. (This is a surge of hormones early in the morning that can affect insulin secretion. It can happen to anyone, with or without diabetes.)
  • You’re dehydrated, so your blood sugar is more concentrated.

Fortunately, a blood sugar spike doesn’t always mean a trip to the hospital. There are some ways you can try to lower your blood sugar.

Of course, it all depends on the person, and you should talk to your doctor about any major changes or if you think something is seriously wrong.

Chug, chug, chug… water

Drinking water can help remove the excess glucose from your bloodstream because it basically makes you pee it out. Start chugging!

Get moving

Exercising can increase insulin sensitivity, which can help your cells better absorb the glucose in your bloodstream. It can also help your muscles use blood sugar for energy, which can lower your levels.

Take a chill pill

If stress can cause high blood sugar, then it makes sense that pausing and relaxing for a bit can help lower it. You could try working out, meditating, or doing breathing exercises to calm down. A regular yoga practice isn’t a bad idea either.

Eat some fenugreek seeds

While the research on this is older, fenugreek seeds may actually work to lower blood sugar and improve glucose intolerance. You can add them to baked goods or brew them into tea.

Inject insulin

If you have diabetes, you’re probably used to injecting insulin to manage your blood sugar. But it never hurts to check with your doc to make sure you’re doing it correctly. If you’re not, you could end up with really low blood sugar, which you also don’t want.

Opt for electrolytes

When your blood sugar is high, your electrolytes are low. Electrolytes help your body maintain a good level of hydration, so you don’t want those levels to drop.

Drink a low carb electrolyte drink or a low sugar sports drink (read the labels) or eat foods high in electrolytes, like bananas, sweet potatoes, nuts, and seeds. Be careful, though, because some of these foods can increase your blood sugar even more.

Take a shot… of ACV

Apple cider vinegar might actually be a miracle worker. Some research suggests it could help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

You can mix a couple of tablespoons of ACV into a tall glass of water or go the safer (and tastier) route by making it into a salad dressing.

Stay as cool as a cucumber

Feeling really overheated and sweaty can easily lead to dehydration, which, again, can raise your blood sugar levels. When it’s super steamy outside, stay in the air conditioning and make sure you wear breathable clothes. And, of course, drink extra water.

Sprinkle some cinnamon on top

Add cinnamon to whatever you’re eating or drinking. Studies have shown that it may actually lower your blood sugar levels considerably. It can slow down the breakdown of carbs, which can help keep glucose lower.

Ideally, you don’t want to deal with a blood sugar spike again any time soon. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent this from happening in the near future.

Don’t overdo it on the pasta

You don’t need to avoid carbs completely, but you do need to keep an eye on how many you’re eating. Carbs break down into sugar, which raises your blood sugar levels. Start planning your meals and tracking your carbs to stay on top of things.

Become besties with fiber

There isn’t much recent research on this, but a 1991 study found that foods high in water-soluble fiber, like fruit and legumes, can help balance your blood sugar levels.

This type of fiber slows down digestion and helps food break down more slowly, allowing the sugar to be absorbed. A high-fiber diet can even reduce your chance of getting type 2 diabetes.

Always be monitoring

If you have diabetes, you probably don’t need to be reminded to keep a watchful eye on your blood sugar and insulin levels. You should also always make sure you’re taking your medication properly.

Maybe skip the seconds

Portion control may not be fun, but it’s important. It can help you lose weight and reduce your calorie intake, which promotes healthy blood sugar levels. Eat slowly, use smaller plates, and consider keeping a food journal.

Clock those Zzz’s

Need an excuse to sleep more? Here it is. Not getting enough sleep can negatively affect blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity and make you hungrier, which can lead to weight gain.

tl;dr

  • Blood sugar spikes happen when insulin isn’t pushing glucose to the cells it needs to get to, leaving it to build up to high levels in your bloodstream.
  • High blood sugar can make you feel sick and weak and can even lead to dangerous conditions like a diabetic coma or kidney failure.
  • Early symptoms to watch out for include increased thirst, frequent urination, and headaches, among others.
  • You can treat high blood sugar by keeping an eye on what you’re eating, drinking more water, and maybe getting in a workout or two.
  • Try to prevent a blood sugar spike from happening in the first place with some lifestyle changes, like sleeping more and eating less.