Patients diagnosed with diabetes have to be on top of understanding their blood sugar. Blood sugar levels to a diabetic patient is an essential part of their care. A physician will measure your levels during regular appointments but it's up to the patient to monitor daily changes in blood sugar. Even further, they need to learn how to monitor it, understand their results and know when to be alert if anything if off. This knowledge can actually save their life.
How does blood sugar work? How is sugar transferred into the blood? Sugar in the blood or also called glucose comes directly from what we eat. The digestive system breaks down that food into glucose and absorbs it into the blood. That's why eating foods high in carbohydrates provide most of the glucose in your diet.
Once glucose enters the blood, cells throughout the body use it for energy. The pancreas produces insulin as soon as blood sugar levels begin to rise. Insulin is an important hormone that helps transport glucose into cells. If low levels of insulin exists or if cells become unresponsive to insulin, the blood glucose levels may remain abnormally high.
The body normally can regulate your blood sugar levels within a very narrow range. If you have diabetes, your body can't make insulin or your cells can't process the insulin properly, which inevitably leads to high blood sugar levels.
What tests measure blood sugar?
As we mentioned above, your doctor will monitor your blood sugar at regular appointments with a simple lab test. The test analyzes your blood sugar levels at a point in time but an individual can measure their own blood sugar with a device called a glucometer. Patients with diabetes are required to have a glucometer and understand how to use it correctly. They're available at your local pharmacy and don't require a prescription.
There's also a specific test that your physician can order called an A1C that measures your blood sugar control over a period of time. This test is best used to measure long-term blood sugar control. This reflects the average blood sugar levels over the last three months.
The next question is what are the goal results of these tests. Diabetic patients generally want a target blood sugar levels of:
70 to 130 mg/dL before a meal
Less than 180 mg/dL after a meal
It's important to remember the goals may vary slightly from patient-to-patient depending on their circumstances. It's crucial to consult with your physician on the best goals for you.
When your doctor orders an A1C test, the goal is a result of less than 7.
What's too low of a goal? You may or may not have heard of the term "hypoglycemia" which means blood sugar levels are too low, generally less than 70 mg/dL. It can happen as a side effect of taking too much insulin or other diabetes medications. Severely low blood sugar is very dangerous. The symptoms include:
If symptoms start to come on, test your blood immediately to verify if you're experiencing low blood sugar. In order to treat this, it's important to have an immediate source of sugar on hand. Healthy examples include glucose tablets, hard candy, honey sticks or fruit juice boxes.
Is it possible to have blood sugar levels that are too high? Yes. This is called Hyperglycemia which is generally anything over 180 mg/dL. This occurs when diabetes isn't well taken care of with medications or diet and exercise. High blood sugar can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, coma, seizures and even death. It's crucial to know the symptoms which include:
Increased thirst or hunger
Some of the symptoms of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are the same. That’s why it’s so important to test your blood sugar to verify it. Exercise and treatment changes can treat high blood sugar. If your blood sugar levels are above 240 mg/dL, know how to check your urine for ketones. If you have ketones in your urine, do not exercise and contact your doctor immediately.