You work hard to manage your diabetes—you eat well, stay active, and you take your medication. But if you’re not staying up to date on certain key health metrics (from your A1C to your cholesterol levels to your BMI), you’re missing out on a chance not only to better manage your diabetes in the long run, but also to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, or other diabetes-related complications. Here are the main numbers that you need to know for ultimate diabetes control.
1. Know your A1C. “One of the most important tests that we do to assess your diabetes control is checking your A1C,” says Sonal Chaudhry, MD, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health. A1C is a blood test that shows your average blood glucose level over the past three months; it’s different from the blood sugar checks you may do on a daily basis. Ideally, you want your A1C to be less than 7. “If it’s 9 or above you probably need stronger medication,” says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
2. Know your fasting blood sugar. Not every type 2 diabetic needs to test their blood sugar throughout the day, but if your doctor wants you to, he’ll likely want you to test your blood sugar first thing in the morning. This number should be less than 100 to 130.
3. Know your post-meal blood sugar. Another common time doctors may want you to assess your blood sugar is within a two-hour window of eating meals. This number shouldn’t be more than 180 one to two hours after the start of a meal.
4. Know your blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the wall of your blood vessels. “It’s important for you to have normal blood pressure if you have diabetes, because if your blood pressure is high it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Chaudhry. A healthy blood pressure reading is considered less than 120/80. Anything above that is considered elevated blood pressure. Readings 130-139/80-89 are considered stage I hypertension. Blood pressure readings 140/90 or greater are considered stage II hypertension. This stage is more likely to be treated with medication, especially if you have other heart disease risk factors.
5. Know your cholesterol. “Too much cholesterol can be bad for you especially if you have diabetes,” says Dr. Chaudhry. It can increase your risk of plaque in arteries.” There are two kinds of cholesterol in the blood: LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, which can build up and clog your blood vessels, and HDL is the “good” cholesterol, which helps get rid of the “bad.” Your goal LDL number should be less than 100. The good stuff, HDL, should be 60 or higher. Triglycerides, another measure of fat in the blood, should be less than 150.
6. Know your BMI. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of many health issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. Knowing your body mass index (BMI)—a measurement of the relationship between your height and weight—can help you and your doctor assess your risk. “[A high BMI] means you’re accumulating a lot of fat in your abdominal area, close to your heart, and that puts you at a higher risk,” says Arévalo. A healthy BMI is between 19 to 25. A BMI between 25 and 30 means you’re overweight, and 30 and above means you’re obese.
When it comes to managing your diabetes, knowledge is power. “If you know these numbers, you’re more of a partner with your doctor in terms of these health care decisions,” says Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, a clinical instructor in medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.