Knowing your blood glucose levels may be crucial to your diabetes management.
Just like you check the weather forecast before slipping on your shoes and stepping outside for the day, assessing your blood sugar levels can inform you about how you need to care for yourself that day, says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
Using a blood glucose monitor, or a small machine that detects the amount of sugars in the bloodstream, patients can make sure they are staying in a safe and healthy range. This is crucial to preventing hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.
“The blood sample is usually taken from the finger,” says Minisha Sood, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City. “There are some machines that allow us to use different sites on the hand or on the arm to get the blood.”
That said, not everyone with type 2 diabetes needs to check their blood sugar daily. Doctors typically recommend regular self-monitoring to type 2 diabetes patients for the following reasons.
If you take insulin injections
If you take medications that increase the risk of low blood sugar
If you’re feeling unwell, to make sure it’s not related to low or high blood sugar
If you are prone to bouts of low blood sugar
If you have poor blood sugar control
Checking your blood sugar can give you valuable feedback on how you are taking care of yourself that day. This can be especially important in the early stages of your diagnosis, as you are adjusting to new lifestyle habits like exercising more or making your diet healthier. (Here are the lifestyle changes doctors recommend for diabetes control.)
A 2009 study of over 3,000 people with type 2 diabetes found that those who consistently self-monitored their blood glucose had better “glycaemic control” than those who did not. And this is a big deal: Stable glucose levels reduce your chances of developing further complications with diabetes.
“Keep a food diary and start checking your sugars a little more often,” Arévalo suggests to patients struggling to manage glucose levels, “just to help us identify those foods that are more ‘damaging’ to our condition.” (Learn how to eat a healthy diet with diabetes here.)
The target range for blood sugar levels depends on the time of day, according to Dr. Sood. Fasting blood sugar, or your numbers when you are on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, should be around 70/80 on the low end, and no higher than 130. Around two hours after eating, blood sugar levels should be below 180, and ideally under 160.
“When patients are well-controlled, meaning their A1C is below 7, we don’t need to be checking the sugars that often,” says Arévalo. Otherwise, self-monitoring blood glucose is essential to getting on track and avoiding serious complications.
Dr. Sood is a board-certified endocrinologist in private practice in New York City and an assistant professor at Hofstra School of Medicine.Sonal Chaudhry
Dr. Chaudhry is an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.Sandra Arevalo
Sandra Arevalo is a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of nutrition services and community outreach at South Bronx Health Center.
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Blood sugar monitoring is when someone
uses a glucose meter which is a machine to
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check their blood sugar.
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The blood sample is usually
taken from the finger.
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There are some machines that allow us
to use different sites on the hand or
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on the arm to get the blood.
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And not everybody with
type II Diabetes has to
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check their blood sugar.
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a patient on insulin should be
monitoring their blood sugar, or
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if they're taking other medicines that
increase the risk of hypoglycemia.
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Also, if you feel unwell,
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it's important to check your blood sugar
to make sure you're not feeling unwell
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related to a low or high blood sugar.
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if they have a tendency to feel symptoms
of low blood sugar, we like to have them
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check their blood sugar just to make
sure we're avoiding those situations.
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If someone has uncontrolled diabetes,
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and we're not exactly sure why
they're not able to get under control,
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I might have them check their blood sugar,
at least temporarily, so
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that we get some more information.
You know you also ask patients
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sometimes to to check their sugars
just to be able to identify
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the foods that are not so good for them.
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You know when they are not sure,
they feel that they are eating very well,
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they are doing their best, but
the sugar side is still high.
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Then I ask them to keep a food diary, and
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start checking your sugars
a little bit more often.
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Sometimes before meals, after meals,
just to help us identify those foods
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that are more damaging to the condition.
So when we have people who are checking
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their blood sugar levels and
they have type II diabetes,
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we usually give them a target range
depending on what time of day it is.
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If they check their blood sugar first
thing in the morning, which is fasting,
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before they've eaten anything.
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We like to see their blood sugars anywhere
between 70 to 80 on the low end and
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about 130 on the high end.
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For when they check their blood
sugar one or two hours after eating,
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ideally that number would be below 160,
most certainly below 180.
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Some people think it's a little painful
cuz you have to be using a needle.
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Or if you're scared of needles, it might
be a little bit more nerve wracking,
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but you can get used to it.
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As a matter of the diabetes
will help you do it, and
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coach you through the process so that's
it's less painful and less frightening.
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When patients are well controlled,
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meaning their A1C is below seven, we don't
need to be checking the sugars that often.
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Maybe only when you're feeling sick,
something like that.
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But if not, you need to be
keeping an eye on your sugars.
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I tell them all the time it's like do you
check the weather report before you get
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out of the house?
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And everyone is like yeah.
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And I'm like why did you do it?
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And it's well it's because I
need to know how to dress.
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And I'm like, well, if you check your
sugars every morning you're gonna know
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what you need to eat, and that's vital.
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So, I make that comparison, and
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then people start getting
the importance of monitoring.
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Allemann S, Houriet C, Diem P, Stettler C. Self-monitoring of blood glucose in non-insulin treated patients with type 2 diabetes: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Curr Med Res Opin. 2009 Dec;25(12):2903-13.Checking your blood glucose. Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association. (Accessed on April 10, 2021 at http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/checking-your-blood-glucose.html.) Know your blood sugar numbers: use them to manage your diabetes. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Accessed on April 10, 2021 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/know-blood-sugar-numbers.)