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Accurate Diabetes Information Can be Lifesaving

woman testing her blood sugar with diabetes

9 Things to Know About Blood Sugar and Diabetes

By Sally Bowman, RN, quality care coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 10/23/2020 at 3:45 p.m.

If you have diabetes, managing your health might feel a bit like a numbers game.

It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range as much as possible to help prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems like heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease.

Maintaining your target range can also help improve your energy level and overall mood. With so much of a focus on numbers, we get plenty of questions from our members with diabetes. Here are nine things you should know if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.

1. How do I check my blood sugar?

Checking your blood sugar is important and the tool that you choose for checking it, equally so. Use a blood sugar meter (also known as a glucometer) or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to monitor and keep track of your blood sugar level.

A blood sugar meter measures the amount of sugar in a small sample of blood, usually from your fingertip.

A CGM uses a sensor inserted under the skin to measure your blood sugar every few minutes. Depending on the model, you may still need to test daily with a blood sugar meter if you use a CGM to make sure your CGM readings are accurate.

2. When should I check my blood sugar?

How often you check your blood sugar depends on the type of diabetes you have and if you take any diabetic medications. Typical times to check your blood sugar include the following.

  • When you first wake up, before you eat or drink anything
  • Before a meal
  • Two hours after a meal
  • At bedtime

If you take insulin for Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or have frequent low blood sugar readings, your personal doctor may want you to check your blood sugar more often. They may suggest other times to check your blood sugar including before and/or after you’re physically active.

3. What are blood sugar targets?

Blood sugar targets are the blood sugar range you are trying to maintain for your optimal health and wellness. Some typical targets you may see include the following.

  • Before a meal: 80 to 130 mg/dL
  • Two hours after the start of a meal: Less than 180 mg/dL

Your blood sugar targets may be different depending on your age, additional health problems you have and other factors.

Be sure to talk to your personal doctor about which targets are best for you.

4. What causes low blood sugar?

Also called hypoglycemia, low blood sugar has many causes including missing a meal, taking too much insulin, taking other diabetes medicines, exercising more than normal, drinking alcohol and vomiting.

Blood sugar below 70 mg/dL is considered low.

Signs of low blood sugar are different for everyone. Common symptoms include any combination of the following.

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger

Know what your individual symptoms are so you can catch low blood sugar early and treat it. Low blood sugar can be dangerous and should be treated as soon as possible.

5. How do I treat low blood sugar?

Treating low blood sugar when you begin to recognize the symptoms can mean the difference between life and death.

To be prepared, always carry supplies for treating low blood sugar with you. If you feel shaky, sweaty or very hungry or have other symptoms, check your blood sugar. Even if you don’t have symptoms but think you may have low blood sugar, check it.

If your blood sugar is lower than 70 mg/dL, do one of the following immediately.

  • Take three or four glucose tablets
  • Drink four ounces of fruit juice
  • Drink four ounces of regular soda
  • Eat four pieces of hard candy
  • Have one tube of glucose gel
  • Drink one cup of skim milk

Wait for 15 minutes and then check your blood sugar again. Do one of the above treatments again until your blood sugar is 70 mg/dL or above and eat a snack if your next meal is an hour or more away.

Driving with low blood sugar can be dangerous, so be sure to check your blood sugar before you get behind the wheel.

If you have problems with low blood sugar, ask your personal doctor if your treatment plan needs to be changed.

6. On the other hand, what causes blood sugar to be high?

Known as hyperglycemia, high blood sugar has many causes which can include being sick, being stressed, eating more than planned and not giving yourself enough insulin.

Over time, high blood sugar can lead to long-term, serious health problems. Symptoms of high blood sugar include any combination of the following.

  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Having blurry vision
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Having frequent headaches
  • Developing fruity-smelling breath

When you are sick, your blood sugar can be hard to manage. You may not be able to eat or drink as much as usual, which can affect blood sugar levels. If you’re ill and your blood sugar is 240 mg/dL or above, use an over-the-counter ketone test kit to check your urine for ketones and call your personal doctor if your ketones are high. 

High ketones can be an early sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately

7. How do I treat high blood sugar?

Talk to your doctor about how to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range. Your doctor may suggest the following ways to help.

  • Be more active. Regular exercise can help keep your blood sugar levels on track. Important: don’t exercise if ketones are present in your urine. This can make your blood sugar go even higher.
  • Take medicine as instructed. If your blood sugar is often high, your doctor may change how much medicine you take or when you take it.
  • Follow your diabetes meal plan. Ask your doctor or dietitian for help if you’re having trouble sticking to it.
  • Check your blood sugar as directed by your doctor. Check more often if you’re feeling ill or if you’re concerned about high or low blood sugar.
  • Talk to your doctor about adjusting how much insulin you take and what types of insulin (such as short-acting) to use.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water.

8. How do carbs affect my blood sugar?

Carbs in food make your blood sugar levels go higher than when you eat proteins or fats. You can still eat carbs if you have diabetes. The amount you can have and stay in your target blood sugar range depends on your age, weight, activity level and other factors. Tracking carbs in foods and drinks is an important tool for managing blood sugar levels. Make sure to talk to your health care team about the best carb goals for you.

9. What else can I do to help manage my blood sugar levels?

Eating a healthy diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular physical activity can all help.  Here are some additional tips.

  • Keep track of your blood sugar levels to see what makes them go up or down
  • Eat at regular times and don’t skip meals
  • Choose foods lower in carbs, calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and salt
  • Track your food, drink and physical activity
  • Drink water instead of juice or soda
  • Limit alcoholic drinks
  • For a sweet treat, choose fruit

Control your food portions (for example, use the plate method by filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with a grain or starchy food).

See your personal doctor as recommended for your A1C, dilated eye exam, kidney screening, blood pressure check, weight and foot exam.

Many Things Affect Blood Sugar Level

There are several factors that can affect blood glucose levels.

Just a short list of some of these factors includes weather, stress, sex, pollution, alcohol, sleep, exercise, flying, illness, menstruation, pregnancy, food, medication such as antipsychotic medicines or steroids, dehydration, pain and more.

All of these things can affect your blood glucose levels. It’s far more complicated than simply eating the right food. Diabetes is like walking a tightrope with lots of people throwing things at you and wobbling the rope.

Prevention and Management are Key to Enjoying Life with Diabetes

Diabetes is a fairly common disease in the United States. It doesn’t have to mean a descent into more severe health problems and symptoms down the road. By learning more about the disease and working to prevent symptoms from becoming more serious, you can live a long and happy life with it.

Network Health is building healthy and strong Wisconsin communities. Education and help managing chronic conditions like diabetes is a big part of how we work towards communities full of people who love their lives and feel good.

For more information about how Network Health can help you manage chronic conditions like diabetes, contact us today.

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