Monitoring blood sugar levels is an important part of managing diabetes. Consistent blood sugar testing can help you keep your blood glucose levels in a safe and healthy range and prevent serious long-term health effects.
If your doctor asks you to monitor your blood sugar levels at home, it's important to know what a healthy range is and how blood sugar levels outside of that range can affect you. You should also know when to contact a doctor about any concerns regarding your blood glucose readings.
This article will explain what blood glucose levels are, what a healthy range might be for you, and when to contact your doctor with questions or concerns.
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Your body needs glucose, a type of sugar, for energy. It gets glucose from the food that you eat, mainly in the form of carbohydrates.
After eating carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose and sends the glucose into the bloodstream. Insulin helps move the glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells, where it's converted into energy.
Having too much glucose in your bloodstream could be an indication that your body either isn't producing enough insulin or isn't using the insulin it has efficiently. These are the effects of diabetes.
Monitoring your blood sugar levels can help you successfully manage diabetes and prevent any long-term effects of blood sugar levels that are either too high or too low.
Blood glucose is measured in units of mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). This measurement indicates the concentration of glucose within the blood.
By keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, you can help prevent some of the serious long-term effects of diabetes. These include:
Problems with eyesight, including blindness
Cuts and bruises that take a long time to heal and are prone to infection
Heart disease and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke
Kidney damage and kidney disease
Issues with digestion and bowel movements
An increased risk for dementia
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor will teach you how to monitor your blood sugar levels at home. They will also help you determine the best times to check your blood sugar, as this can vary from person to person.
Some people may only need to check their glucose levels once or twice a day, such as first thing in the morning or before bed. Others may need to check their glucose multiple times throughout the day, particularly before and after meals.
Depending on your specific needs, there are different ways to check your blood sugar levels:
Finger pricks and testing strips: In this method, you’ll use a small needle called a lancet to prick your finger and place a small drop of blood onto a test strip. You'll then insert the strip into a monitor to test the drop of blood and deliver your blood sugar level results.
Continuous glucose monitor: These monitors don't require you to prick your finger. Instead, you'll have a small sensor placed under your skin, usually on your arm or stomach. The sensor can deliver blood glucose results anytime you need them and even track your results on your smartphone or tablet.
Your blood glucose levels will fluctuate throughout the day, depending on when you've eaten, what you ate, and how long it's been since your last meal. They will also fluctuate depending on whether you have diabetes and what type of diabetes you have.
Because healthy blood glucose ranges will vary slightly from person to person, you'll work with your doctor to determine the range that's right for you. Your doctor may recommend a different target range based on the type of diabetes you have, your weight, your age, and whether you are pregnant.
In general, though, target glucose ranges include:
In individuals without diabetes
70-100 mg/dL overnight and before meals (fasting)
less than 140 mg/dL after meals
In individuals with diabetes
80-130 mg/dL overnight or before meals
less than 180 mg/dL after meals
Keep track of your blood glucose readings, either in a notebook or on your phone. You may also find it helpful to track how much exercise you’ve done, what you ate, and your general stress levels. These can all affect your blood sugar levels.
If you notice your numbers are too high or too low for several days in a row, contact your doctor to talk about changing your diabetes management plan.
Your doctor will work with you to develop a diabetes management plan that will help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level. This plan might include:
Changing your diet. Because the majority of the glucose in our diets comes from carbohydrates, you may need to cut back on carbs to help keep your blood sugar level in check. Also, avoid a high-fat diet as it impacts your insulin levels and contributes to obesity, which makes it more difficult to control your blood sugar. Eating a well-balanced diet that’s full of lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables is a good choice.
Getting more exercise. Exercise is a great way to help bring your blood sugar into a healthy range. It helps burn energy and can help your body use insulin more efficiently. You'll want to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, so look for activities that are easy to integrate into your daily life, like swimming, walking, dancing, or joining a class at your local gym.
Taking medication. For some people, diet and exercise aren't enough to manage glucose levels. You may also need the help of medication. Oral medications and insulin injections can help your body manage your blood sugar levels.
Hyperglycemia is the medical term for having high blood sugar. It's a trait of diabetes, a condition that prevents your body from removing excess glucose from the bloodstream.
You are hyperglycemic if your blood sugar measures more than 125 mg/dL before meals (fasting) and more than 180 mg/dL one or two hours after meals.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
Feeling thirstier than normal
Having to urinate more than normal
Feeling hungrier than usual
Unexplained weight loss
Feeling tired or irritable
It's possible to experience spikes in your blood sugar even if you don't have diabetes, such as after eating a meal with a lot of carbohydrates. However, if your blood sugar is consistently high, it could indicate that your body either isn't producing enough insulin or isn't using it efficiently. In this case, you will want to contact your doctor to discuss treatment options.
If you are monitoring your blood sugar levels at home, keep a log of your readings. If your readings are outside of your doctor's recommended range for more than two days, contact your doctor. They may need to adjust or change your medication or help you develop a new treatment plan to keep your blood sugar level in a healthy range.
If you haven't been diagnosed with diabetes, but you've noticed symptoms such as needing to drink more, urinating more frequently, or experiencing unexplained weight loss, make an appointment with your doctor. Testing can help determine if this is due to diabetes or another underlying health condition.
Glucose enters the body through the food you eat, most commonly in carbohydrate form. Insulin helps glucose move from the bloodstream into the cells, where it's used for energy.
By measuring the amount of glucose in your blood before and after you eat, your doctor can determine if your blood sugar levels are in a healthy range. If the levels are too high, then you may have diabetes.
Your doctor may recommend monitoring your blood glucose levels at home, either with a lancet and testing strips or with a continuous glucose monitor. By tracking your readings, you can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level.
Your doctor will provide you with a target range based on your age, the type of diabetes you have, and whether you are pregnant. With the help of diet, exercise, and medication, you can maintain healthy blood sugar levels and avoid complications associated with long-term high blood sugar levels, including kidney disease, blindness, and heart disease.
You should contact your doctor if your blood sugar levels are outside of your target range for more than a day. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with diabetes for the first time, including increased thirst, frequent need to urinate, and unexplained weight loss, make an appointment with your primary care physician.
Testing can help determine if these symptoms are due to diabetes or another underlying health condition.
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