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.