Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels
When you have diabetes, your body can’t get the sugar from the blood into cells or make enough, or any, insulin. This causes high levels of blood sugar or high blood sugar levels. The carbohydrates in food are one reason blood sugar levels go up after meals.
The different types of diabetes and diabetes-related conditions include:
- Type 1 diabetes, which is when the body stops making insulin
- Type 2 diabetes, which is usually a combination of the pancreas not making enough insulin and the cells not using insulin well (insulin resistance)
- Prediabetes, which is when blood sugars are above their typical levels but not high enough for diabetes diagnosis
- Gestational diabetes which is when you develop diabetes in your second or third trimester of pregnancy
When to Check Blood Sugar Levels
Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professionals about the best times to check your blood sugar. Optimal times vary for each person.
Some options include:
- After fasting (after waking or not eating for eight to 12 hours), or before meals
- Before and after meals, to see the impact that the meal had on your blood sugar
- Before all meals, to decide how much insulin to inject
- At bedtime
Bring a record of your blood sugar results to appointments with your doctor so you can review it and make changes to your treatment if necessary.
What Does a High Blood Sugar Level Mean?
Blood sugar levels can fluctuate throughout the day. When taking blood sugar readings, it’s important to know what factors may affect the result.
However, if your blood sugar levels are high, you may have hyperglycemia.
Symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
- Blurry vision
- Frequent urination
Consistently high blood sugar readings indicate your diabetes management plan isn’t working.
How to Check
You’ll need a blood sample to check your blood sugar levels. You can do this at home in several ways.
Blood Sugar Monitor
Home blood sugar monitors are the most common way of measuring blood sugar. The most common type of blood sugar monitor uses a lancet to prick the side tip of your finger to draw a small drop of blood. Then you place this drop of blood on a disposable testing strip. You then insert the testing strip into an electronic blood sugar meter, which measures blood sugar levels in the sample and returns a number on a digital readout.
Continuous Blood Sugar Monitors
Another option is a continuous blood sugar monitor. To use a continuous blood sugar monitor, a doctor first inserts a small wire beneath the skin of your abdomen or arm. Every few minutes, the wire will measure blood sugar levels and deliver the results to an outside monitor device. This allows you and your doctor to keep a real-time reading of your blood sugar levels.
Recommended Blood Sugar Targets
People measure blood sugar in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) have different recommendations for blood sugar targets for non-pregnant adults with type 2 diabetes:
- Before meals: 80-130 mg/dL (ADA) or <180 mg/dL (AACE)
- After meals: <180 mg/dL (ADA) or <180-200 mg/dL (AACE)
Talk with your doctor to learn more about your blood sugar targets. Your doctor can help you determine which guidelines to target or they can work with you to set your blood sugar targets.
What Should I Do If My Blood Sugar Levels Are Too High?
You should establish a treatment plan with your doctor. You may be able to manage your blood sugar levels through diet and other lifestyle changes, like weight loss. Exercise can also help lower your blood sugar levels.
Let your doctor know if your blood sugar levels are consistently high. This could mean you must take regular medication or make other changes to your diabetes treatment plan.
Working with your doctor to get your blood sugar levels under control is important. Consistently high levels can lead to serious complications, like diabetic neuropathy or kidney failure.
Medication and Insulin
Doctors may add medications to your treatment plan if needed. Most people with type 2 diabetes will start on metformin as their first medication. There are many different types of diabetes medications that act in different ways.
Injecting insulin is one way to quickly reduce your blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes will need to inject insulin multiple times per day to keep blood sugar levels in check. Your doctor will determine your dosage and discuss with you how to inject it and when.
Diabetes Eating Plan
The foods you eat can have a big impact on your blood sugar levels.
Foods to Include
Include healthy carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, and lean proteins in your diet. Healthy carbohydrates include:
- Whole grains
- Beans and other legumes
Manage the amount of healthy carbohydrates you eat at meals and snacks. Add protein and fat to slow digestion and avoid blood sugar spikes.
Healthful fats are important to include in a diabetes diet. The ADA recommends prioritizing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated and trans fats. Healthful fats can lower a person’s cholesterol levels, risk of heart disease, and other complications associated with diabetes. Options include:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish