A hand holding a fuel pump with gas flowing out

An Overlooked Consequence of High Blood Sugar – Fatigue

Diabetes is literally defined by having higher than "normal" blood glucose levels for a longer than "normal" time. We diagnose diabetes by checking the blood glucose level after not eating for many hours (fasting), or by seeing how quickly levels come down after eating a specified dose of glucose (glucose tolerance). Once diagnosed, our mission becomes one of trying to keep those high blood glucose levels lower – as close to “normal” as possible – with medication, diet, and exercise. We check our blood glucose levels and faithfully have the A1C test periodically, all looking to keep high blood glucose levels down.

Complications of high blood sugar

There is a good reason for this focus on high blood glucose. Persistent high blood glucose levels over the long term eventually increase the risk for a menu of very serious health consequences we call "complications" of diabetes. There is no disputing the long-term benefits, therefore, of working to keep blood glucose levels lower. But, let’s not forget what high blood glucose levels can mean day to day – the short-term consequences. One of those is simply fatigue.

Mental and physical fatigue

We all know that tending to diabetes can be mentally exhausting and stressful. But, high blood sugar levels are a sign of one cause of pure physical fatigue and loss of endurance. You see, the excess glucose circulating in blood should be somewhere else. It should be, slowly but surely, finding its way out of our bloodstream and into our "fuel tank" – into muscle cells to provide quick energy as we need it, and filling a backup of stored energy to replace the "fuel" we use. But, type 2 diabetes is characterized by a disruption in the process that moves "fuel" – glucose – out of the bloodstream and into these cells that need the fuel. It’s called "insulin resistance," and it means that cells "normally" sensitive to insulin’s signal to that cell to absorb glucose are not “fueling up.”

How to increase insulin sensitivity

Some diabetes medications can increase insulin sensitivity, but so can exercise. That’s one reason getting regular physical activity is an important lifestyle adaptation for effective diabetes self-management.

Remember that elevated blood glucose is more than just a number. It’s evidence that the fuel your body needs is not getting to the cells that need it. And that makes management activities, like getting regular exercise, important today.

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