There are more over-the-counter medications in existence than ever before as science finds new ways to treat widespread illness and disease. As beneficial as they are, these medications also come with a series of potential side effects, leaving us with questions. For instance, many wonder what medications can raise blood sugar levels?
Though we often associate high blood sugar levels with Type 2 diabetes, this side effect can become a complication whether or not you have diabetes. Fortunately, if you discover that your blood glucose levels are elevated, you can manage and even reverse the effects in any number of ways.
Below, we'll take a look at these common medications in more detail. But first, let's discuss what exactly your blood sugar is, what happens when your blood sugar levels are high, and why these elevated levels are unfavorable as it pertains to your personal health.
What Is Blood Sugar?
Before we discuss what medications can raise blood sugar levels, first we need to determine exactly what your blood sugar is.
Also known as blood glucose, your blood sugar is the sugar that flows through your bloodstream as a result of the carbohydrates you consume. From classic foods to drinks, much of our diet consists of carbs. It's an important energy source that provides nutrients and power to your body's many systems and organs. And it's regulated within your body by a complex process that involves your small intestine, liver, and pancreas.
Of those three organs and glands, the one we need to focus on is the pancreas. That's because this gland, located in your abdomen, secretes a hormone known as insulin. As insulin is secreted, it enters your bloodstream and acts as a signal that tells your body to absorb sugar from your blood so you can use it as energy.
What Are Healthy Blood Sugar Levels?
As you can imagine, your body is constantly managing your blood glucose levels to ensure they remain stable. From the foods you eat to the quality of your sleep, there are many variables both internal and external that can affect blood glucose.
In some individuals, the body doesn't respond to insulin as it should. We refer to this as insulin resistance because the body isn't removing sugar from the blood when insulin is released. Glucose can't enter the cells as easily to become energy, so it builds up in the blood.
Decades of research have provided us with specific ranges that are used to determine if you have low levels (hypoglycemia), normal levels, or high levels (hyperglycemia) of blood sugar. Those with low blood sugar will test below 70 mg/dL, while those with normal blood sugar will test between 70 and 100 mg/dL. Those that test over 100 mg/dL have what is considered prediabetes — a measurement in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes. And anyone with blood sugar levels over 200 mg/dL is considered diabetic. Because blood sugar levels change throughout the day, these measurements are taken after fasting for eight hours to ensure a stable, normal reading is achieved.
Keep in mind that two types of diabetes exist. Type 1 diabetes occurs as a result of the body's inability to naturally produce insulin, forcing those with the condition to wear an insulin pump that will add the hormone to the blood as a means of blood sugar control. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or resists insulin. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, hunger, and high blood pressure.
What Happens When Your Blood Sugar Levels Are High?
When your blood sugar levels are too high, we refer to this as hyperglycemia. Short-term symptoms of high blood sugar vary from person to person but may include thirst, headaches, blurred vision, frequent urination, weight loss, and fatigue.
If blood sugar levels remain elevated over a prolonged period of time, serious complications can occur. For instance, untreated hyperglycemia can lead to cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, clouding of the eyes, feet problems, and bone and joint issues.
So, What Medications Can Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Now that we understand how our blood sugar works, what levels are normal, and what happens when our blood glucose levels are high, let's take a look at the medications that can raise blood glucose. Many exist, so we'll break them down based on the type of medication or illness being treated and provide a few common examples for each.
- Steroids: Also known as corticosteroids, these treat diseases caused by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, and injury. Common steroids include hydrocortisone and prednisone, though steroids that come in cream-based or inhaler form will not raise your blood sugar.
- Mental disorders: Medications used to treat anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other mental health conditions fall under a broader umbrella of mental prescriptions. Those that can raise blood sugar levels include clozapine, zyprexa, olanzapine, and risperidone.
- Birth control: The estrogen in birth control pills can naturally raise glucose levels in the blood. This can increase insulin resistance in those with diabetes. As a result, some physicians don't prescribe birth control to diabetic women.
- Statins: Statins are a class of drug that works by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol. Lowering your cholesterol is beneficial as it decreases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, but doing so with statins can also raise blood sugar levels in those with prediabetes or diabetes.
- Beta-blockers and diuretics: Beta-blockers are one of many types of medications used to treat high blood pressure and other heart-related problems. Atenolol is one such beta-blocker that can increase blood sugar levels. Thiazide diuretics treat high blood pressure as well and are also capable of raising blood sugar levels.
- OTC medications: Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are nonprescription medications, meaning you can find these on the shelf at your local drug store. Pseudoephedrine, a decongestant found in cold and flu medications, as well as niacin (a B vitamin) can increase blood sugar levels.
Though we’re focusing today on medications that can raise blood sugar levels, stress and anxiety are two factors that can have a similar effect. When you experience physical or emotional stress, hormones are released that will manipulate your blood sugar levels. For this reason, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety in your life.
What If You Take These Medications?
Even though these medications can increase your blood sugar, it doesn't mean you shouldn't take them. Instead, consider using an at-home continuous glucose monitor that allows you to monitor your blood sugar levels over time. Doing so will prompt you to analyze trends in your blood sugar levels and determine if they are rising or above normal. You can then make personalized decisions on your diet and exercise to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
If you have diabetes, seek medical advice before you take new medicines, even if you only plan on treating a common cold or flu.
Medications, Blood Sugar, and You
As we’ve learned, many medications exist that contain any number of side effects, one of which includes raising blood sugar levels. Even if your levels fall within a normal range, talk to your doctor before taking new medications to ensure they’re right for you and your body.
Whether you take medications or not, it’s important that you invest in your health by maintaining and supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Balanced blood sugar levels can improve your health, boost your metabolism, and increase your longevity. Sign up today for Vital to begin understanding your blood sugar levels and receive personalized recommendations about exercise, food, and daily habits that contribute to a better life.