If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be feeling a little scared or overwhelmed. It is a complex disease that requires special attention. But take comfort in knowing that many millions of Americans are living with this condition every day. It can be managed.
Your doctor has told you to monitor your blood glucose regularly. How often you do it depends on your individual situation and doctor's recommendation. Some people monitor it once a day. Others do it a few times a day. Still others monitor it every other day. Whatever your situation, are you doing it? Do you know why it's so important?
Let's briefly review what is going on in your body.
Blood glucose — the basics
When you eat or drink, your body breaks down the sugars and starches into glucose (or sugar), which fuels your cells. Insulin, a hormone, is required to move the glucose through your blood to your cells. When insulin is missing or not working right, your body can't break down glucose. It builds up in your bloodstream.
Over time, high blood glucose can lead to problems with your heart, kidneys, eyes, feet and other areas. You're more at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, mouth disease and skin disorders, among other things.
Isn't that enough to persuade you to test your blood glucose?
To keep diabetes under control, a primary goal is to keep your blood glucose in an acceptable range. Your doctor has likely given you a target range. Now you just have to know what your blood glucose levels are.
How do you measure blood glucose?
Testing your blood glucose involves taking a little bit of blood. Tests can be done at home or in a clinical lab. There are two types of tests. Each yields a different result. Let's see how they differ:
THE A1C TEST: This is a lab test that measures your average blood glucose level over the past two or three months. It will tell whether your blood glucose level stayed in your target range through most of that period, or if it was too high or too low.
The A1C also helps your doctor decide the kind and amount of diabetes medicine you may need. You need this test at least twice a year — more often if your levels stay too high, if your treatment changes, if you become ill or if you plan to become pregnant.
THE SELF-TEST. This test uses a drop of blood. A simple prick with a blood glucose meter on your fingertip or palm will give you a reading. You might do a self-test when you first get up, before you eat, after you eat, when you take your medicine, and/or at bedtime.
Keeping a record
Always make a note of the date, meter reading, time of day, when you last ate and what activity you were doing at the time.
Make a log in a notebook or check the American Diabetes Association website for a sample log. If you prefer, look for a smartphone app or an online tool that helps you store and track information. You can jot your results down and fill them in later if you find it easier.
You will soon be able to see how eating, physical activity, taking your medicine or being ill or stressed can affect your blood glucose. Share these records with your doctor at each visit.
Some common concerns
Some people encounter roadblocks to monitoring as their doctor has prescribed. Here are some common excuses for not testing:
- I forget to do it. Monitoring should become a habit, just like taking your medicines. Can you make a schedule, or tie testing to another activity, and stick to it?
- It hurts too much. Today's devices make monitoring much more comfortable. Choose a thin lancet dialed to just the right depth, and use a fresh one for every test. Don't use the same finger every time. Current meters require a very small sample.
- I run out of supplies. Consider a mail-order pharmacy that delivers to your home. You may even get a notice when it's time to reorder. Or write a reminder on your calendar so you don't run out.
- I don't know what to do with the information. Bring your meter and testing log to your doctor visits. Your care team can look for patterns in your readings.
- It's too expensive. You may be eligible to get diabetes supplies at no cost. Check with your health plan administrator. If you're not insured, ask your doctor about other resources. Spending a little bit now on your everyday care may ward off expensive treatment later.
- I already get my A1C checked two to four times a year. Your A1C is an overview of your past blood sugar levels. It doesn't tell you how your body is responding to specific activities like eating and taking medicine. Self-testing is still important.
Don't let these barriers stop you. Your regular blood glucose readings can guide you to healthier choices, both daily and over time.
Created on 04/04/2013
Updated on 04/18/2013
- Optum Rx. Breaking down the barriers to monitoring.
- American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes–2013. Diabetes Care. 2013;36:s11-s66.
- National Diabetes Education Program. Know your blood sugar numbers.