Cubes of sugar against a pink background to represent sugar that may contribute to inflammation

Do blood sugar spikes cause inflammation?

Medically reviewed on April 4, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, occurs when our bodies produce too little insulin—a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose, or sugar, in our blood.1 As a result, insulin resistance can cause sugar to build up in our bloodstream, which can lead to increased thirst, fatigue, infection, and cardiovascular risk. [1] So, does sugar cause inflammation?

While blood sugar spikes are most common in those who are diabetic, healthy individuals can also experience elevated glucose levels, depending on their diet and lifestyle choices. [2]

With all that said, do blood sugar spikes cause inflammation, too? And does inflammation cause weight gain? They can. Hyperglycemia is often pro-inflammatory and may negatively affect the immune system, triggering redness, swelling, pain, and limited function of the area. [3] As such, it’s critical to test your blood glucose levels regularly.

What happens to the body when blood sugar spikes?

Insulin resistance is a key instigator of high blood sugar levels, which is typically categorized by blood sugar levels above 250 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). [4]

Seemingly innate lifestyle choices or events can also cause an influx of glucose to flood your bloodstream, including: [5]

  • Sunburns
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Coffee
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of breakfast
  • Gum disease
  • Carb-heavy meals

For example, let’s say you’ve just indulged in a delicious lunchtime bowl, complete with sweet potatoes, brown rice, and garbanzo beans—and a handful of gummy bears for dessert. When you eat a carb-dense meal like this one, your body will break down the simple sugars and release them into your bloodstream. [6]

As sugar enters your blood, your body triggers an insulin response to move the sugar from your bloodstream and into your cells, thus providing your body with energy and returning your blood sugar to normal levels. [6]

However, sometimes our bodies can’t break down refined carbohydrates efficiently. Rather, insulin resistance—or, your pancreas’s inability to produce enough insulin—can cause sugar to build up within the blood.

And when your blood sugar spikes, your immune system jumps into action. Inflammatory molecules, such as white blood cells and cytokines, work to instigate glucose breakdowns. [7] As a result, those with high blood glucose levels may experience inflammation throughout the body.

Additional early signs of an acute blood sugar spike can include: [1]

  • Thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision

The connection between high blood sugar and diabetes

Diabetes occurs as a result of chronic hyperglycemia and the pancreas’s continual inability to produce enough insulin. [1]

Those with type 1 diabetes may experience diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially deadly condition that makes the blood too acidic. [8]

People with diabetes may also experience diabetic inflammation, a chronic form of inflammation that occurs when an excess of cytokines is released. Unfortunately, diabetic inflammation can lead to several health complications, such as: [9]

  • Cardiovascular disease – The swelling associated with diabetic inflammation may feel uncomfortable, as it can lead to chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Nerve damage – Inflammation in the nerves may cause tingling sensations or feelings of discomfort in the hands and feet. [10]
  • Kidney disease – Those with inflammation-induced kidney disease may experience soreness near the ribs, spine, abdomen, and groin. [12]
  • Eye problems – Oftentimes those with diabetes may develop diabetic retinopathy macular edema, which may cause glaucoma, cataracts, and potential vision loss. [11]

How to reduce inflammation in the body

The American Diabetes Association notes that 37.3 million adults have a diabetes diagnosis. [13] And while diabetes is not yet curable, it is manageable. Those with a diabetes diagnosis or chronic hyperglycemia can stay on top of inflammation with:

  • Consistent blood-sugar monitoring – You or your healthcare provider can administer regular blood tests to monitor your glucose levels. So, what blood test shows inflammation? An HbA1c test measures your average blood glucose level over the course of three months: Results below 5.7% are normal, averages between 5.7 and 6.4% are considered prediabetic, and levels 6.5% and higher indicate diabetes. If you choose to fast, you can also measure your blood sugar level with a fasting blood sugar test, which measures your glucose levels by mg/dL. [14]
  • Low glycemic diets – Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) have little effect on your blood sugar levels and are integral to diabetes treatment plans, weight loss, and overall health. Low-GI foods include green vegetables, fruits, carrots, kidney beans, and lentils. Sweet corn, bananas, breakfast cereals, and whole-grain bread are considered middle ground, and white rice, white bread, and potatoes should be avoided, as they have a high glycemic index. [15] Oily fish, olive oil, and vitamins A, C, and D may also help reduce inflammation. [16]
  • Regular exercise – Daily strenuous physical activity can lower your blood sugar level for 24 hours because it makes your body more sensitive to insulin. [17] Experts recommended monitoring your blood sugar levels during and after your exercise routine to understand how movement affects your glucose levels. [17]

Track your blood sugar levels with Everlywell

When your body is unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin, glucose levels in your blood can rise and lead to chronic hyperglycemia or diabetes. As a result, inflammation can affect many parts of the body and lead to feelings of pain or discomfort.

With an at-home HbA1c Test from Everlywell, you can monitor and measure your blood sugar levels over the past 90 days. Simply prick your finger, send your sample, and receive physician-reviewed results from a CLIA-certified lab.

Does sugar cause inflammation?

What blood test shows inflammation?

Acute vs. chronic inflammation: understanding the difference


  1. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Cleveland Clinic. Published March 2, 2023. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  2. Armitage H. Diabetic-level glucose spikes seen in healthy people. Stanford Medicine. Published July 24, 2018. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  3. Collier B, Dossett L, May A, Diaz J. Glucose control and the inflammatory response. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2008 Feb;23(1):3-15. DOI: 10.1177/011542650802300103.
  4. Mathew T, Tadi P. Blood glucose monitoring. StatPearls. Published January 2022. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  5. 10 surprising things that can spike your blood sugar. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  6. Carbohydrates. American Heart Association. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  7. Kang Y, Kim H, Shong M. Regulation of systemic glucose homeostasis by T helper type 2 cytokines. Diabetes & Metabolism Journal 2019;43(5):549-559. DOI: 10.4093/dmj.2019.0157.
  8. Diabetic ketoacidosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  9. Diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  10. Peripheral neuropathy. Mayo Clinic. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  11. Diabetes and vision loss. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  12. Kidney pain. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  13. Statistics about diabetes. American Diabetes Association. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  14. Diabetes tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published February 28, 2023. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  15. Nutrition and healthy eating. Mayo Clinic. Published November 2, 2023. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  16. Inflammation. Cleveland Clinic. Published July 28, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2023.
  17. Blood sugar and exercise. American Diabetes Association. Accessed March 7, 2023.
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