For patients with diabetes, keeping blood glucose (sugar) levels under control and monitoring blood sugar levels regularly is important for several reasons, most notably to determine if blood sugar levels are too high or too low at any given time.
Testing frequently allows an understanding of what causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate and how your lifestyle and medications may impact these levels. Regular monitoring can also help a patient and their healthcare provider determine if any medication changes need to be made.
These decisions are crucial to the care of a patient and can prevent diabetes complications such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and amputation. Blood glucose meters are devices that allow to test and save reading results. It is good practice for patients to record their readings in a journal.
How to Check Your Levels
A blood glucose meter is a handy device used by diabetics to check blood sugar levels at home or on the go. These meters require a blood sample onto a glucose strip. They can be purchased at pharmacies or online. A pharmacist, diabetes counselor or doctor may provide insight into which is right for you.
Before using a blood glucose meter, there are several things you will need to collect your sample and check your levels accurately. First, you will need to know how and where to collect a blood sample. You will need lancets, which are devices that puncture your skin. You must know how to use and dispose of lancets properly. You will also need to determine the size of your blood sample required by your blood glucose meter. Not every meter takes the same type/size of blood glucose strips either.
Part of using your meter responsibly involves cleaning it, checking for accuracy, and knowing how to code your meter if needed. You also want to check the expiration date on all testing supplies regularly. Before collecting your sample, you should wash your hands thoroughly to remove any contaminants. Using the sides of your fingers is best since this is a less sensitive spot vs. the fingertips.
Fortunately, finger prick meters are not the only option for diabetic patients. There are also flash glucose meters and continuous glucose meters. Flash glucose meters use sensors to measure your levels. A sensor is inserted right underneath your skin, usually in the arm. This meter also comes with a handheld scanner that you can move over your sensor to get your level reading.
A continuous glucose meter is another device that does not require a blood sample. It also uses a sensor that is placed under the skin. This monitor continuously displays blood sugar levels and provides alarms that alert low and high blood sugar and integrates with insulin pump devices.
One of the most popular continuous glucose meters is the Dexcom device. It is a small, wearable device that sends your glucose numbers to a smart device. This device will alert you if your levels start to get out of range.
How to Choose Your Monitoring System
To find the glucose monitoring system right for you, you first need to determine which is suitable for your specific needs. Always consider both the benefits and limitations of different devices and aim to find a system that meets your individual requirements and lifestyle.
There are three primary purposes for monitoring your glucose. The first is to ensure the safety of patients taking insulin or oral medications by detecting or preventing hypoglycemia. The second purpose is to help people with diabetes make decisions about their insulin dosage. The final objective is to determine how well your diet, medications, and activity are working to keep you in a healthy blood sugar level range.
How often diabetic patients must monitor their blood sugar levels depends on the type of diabetes. For example, people with type 1 diabetes who have severely low blood sugar or suffer from hypoglycemic unawareness would do best with a continuous glucose monitoring system. By using this consistent monitoring method, life-threatening emergencies like comas and seizures can be prevented through the alarms that provide early warnings. Also, these systems help patients spend more time within the target blood sugar range.
Flash glucose monitoring systems are offered to type 1 and type 2 diabetic patients. They have been shown to help patients decrease time spent in hypoglycemia. This monitoring system reveals patterns of glucose values and shows graphs of historical data, future data, and scan data.
Diabetic patients are not all advised to test their levels the same number of times per day. The recommended frequency of testing is individualized to each patient’s circumstances. The minimum recommendation of testing times is at least four times a day. Patients may prefer to test using strips and a handheld meter. This can help users stay within range and may be the best fit for some based on their profile and preferences.
For those with type 1 diabetes, your doctor may recommend testing your blood sugar four to ten times a day. Testing times may include before meals and snacks, before and after exercise, and before bed. Some patients even need to test during the night.
With type 2 diabetes, you may need to test several times a day if you are taking insulin to manage your condition. Testing is recommended before meals and at bedtime. If you use intermediate or long-acting insulin, you may only need to test before breakfast. Some type 2 diabetic patients who take noninsulin medications may not need to test their blood sugar daily.
Testing first thing in the morning before a meal shows how your body and/or medication controls your blood glucose overnight. Testing before meals monitors how effective your medications are working in between meals. It can also show if you need to adjust your food choices at mealtime. Testing a couple of hours after a meal shows the effects of the food you have eaten on your levels. Testing before physical activity reveals whether a patient may need to delay their exercise. Or you may need a snack before you start. Testing before going to bed will determine whether you need a snack before sleeping.
How to Stay in Target Range
Your primary physician or diabetic care team will help you determine what your target blood sugar range is. Typically, a patient will have their A1C measured every three months. It may be sooner than that if a patient is not on target or is trying to make changes to their current regiment.
There are many factors that can help keep diabetic patients’ levels in range. Eating healthy and exercising have a tremendous effect on glucose levels. Target ranges are not the same for every patient and depend on a patient’s age, risk factors, and medical conditions. Targets are different for children under 12 and also for pregnant women. For most adult patients, their A1C level should be 7.0% or less. Their fasting level before meals should be between 4.0 and 7.0. And two hours after eating a meal, blood sugar levels should be between 5.0 to 10.0.
Managing Your Levels While Ill
Blood sugar levels tend to fluctuate more when a patient is ill. Sometimes levels can even become unpredictable. If you are sick, it’s important to manage your levels as best as you can by being proactive. Staying hydrated is the most critical action to take. Blood sugar levels should also be checked twice as often. And if your typical meal plan cannot be followed, aim to eat 15 grams of carbohydrates every hour. If you are unable to eat or hold down solid foods, replace your meals with fluids that contain sugar. Vomiting or having diarrhea two times or more in four hours warrants a trip to the emergency room.
Monitoring Your Perception Too
Sometimes patients can become overwhelmed with monitoring, especially if they are newly diagnosed. It can be frustrating when you see your levels out of range. It may even feel like you failed a test. But remember, numbers are just numbers. Think of the readings as information; information that will arm you with knowledge. Using that knowledge can help you make adjustments to your care as needed and get you closer to your target range more often.
Taking care of your body also means taking care of your mind. It’s equally as important to live a healthy life. The state of your mental health can exacerbate diabetes symptoms and make conditions worse. If you have any questions or concerns at any time about blood-sugar testing, seeing your doctor or diabetic care team is essential.