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Blood Sugar Readings and Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Robert Hurd, M.D.
Written by Marnie Willman
Updated on August 23, 2022

Monitoring your blood sugar is the best way to fully understand your type 2 diabetes. By watching your blood sugar patterns over time, you can see how your body reacts to certain foods, modes of exercise, and diabetes medication.

It’s important to make time in your day to test your blood sugar routinely, so you can get a good picture of where your diabetes management routine needs tweaks. Blood sugar readings give you a snapshot of where your glucose levels are at any given time, which can be used to track trends.

This article will cover basic facts about blood sugar readings, what they mean, where your health care team comes in, and some new technology that may improve your diabetes control. These are some general guidelines, but you should always make changes in coordination with your diabetes care team. Only your care team has details about your medical history and can provide the best suggestions for improvements to your routine.

At-Home Blood Sugar Readings

You can buy an at-home blood glucose monitor at your local doctor’s office, pharmacy, or online. This system works by placing a drop of blood from your finger on a disposable test strip, which is inserted into the glucose monitor. When a reaction occurs between the test strip and your blood, a number is displayed, which tells you your current blood glucose level.

If you have health insurance, your plan may cover the cost of monitors, test strips, and the lancets used to prick your finger to get the blood needed for the test. Your diabetes care team should explain the step-by-step instructions for an at-home blood test and answer any questions you might have about the process. If you need a trusted reference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a simple guide to using a blood sugar meter.

How Often To Test Your Blood Sugar

Your health care team can tell you how often you should test your blood sugar level, as the answer varies from person to person. If your numbers are fluctuating a lot, you may be asked to test more often than usual. Make sure you write down your numbers and take those records with you to your appointment with your doctor, endocrinologist, or diabetes nurse.

Usually, you’ll want to take blood glucose tests several times a day. Some people living with diabetes find it easier to time their tests around meals, testing before and after mealtimes. This can also be helpful for your doctor, so they can see how your treatment plan is working.

You should also test every time you think your blood sugar levels may be too high or too low or may be changing quickly. Only a blood sugar reading will confirm your blood sugar level, which will indicate how you should manage it.

Ideal Target Ranges

Depending on where you live, a blood sugar test will be measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L) or milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). When you purchase your glucose meter, it likely will have both settings, and you can choose which one you’d like to use. This decision will also be partially made by your health care team and which system they run on.

In general, the range of normal blood sugar levels before eating (preferably two hours or more since eating last) is 4 to 6 mmol/L or 72 to 108 mg/dL. Everyone is different, though, and it is important to check with your doctor about your target range.

After eating, your blood sugar levels may rise, and this is normal. If your blood sugar levels are rising too much after a meal, you may not be taking enough insulin. Or, if you’re taking oral treatments for your diabetes, you may need to change your routine.

If your blood sugar is running low routinely, you also may need to adjust your routine so you can keep your blood sugar within a healthier range.

If your levels aren’t within your target parameters and you have concerns, you should check in with your health care provider and see what adjustments they think you may need. Remember that many things can affect your blood sugar. Members of DiabetesTeam have reported that their menstrual cycles, carbohydrate consumption, stress, and even low-sugar or diet food options could affect their blood sugar management. Your diabetes treatment and any diabetes complications you may have can all influence your diabetes management.

Other Types of Blood Sugar Testing

There are three types of blood sugar monitoring you’ll come across the most. Traditional finger-stick testing is the most common way of testing your blood glucose levels. There are also A1c tests and continuous glucose monitoring.

A1c Testing

Another test for blood sugar is called an A1c (or hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c) test. You may be able to get a take-home kit from some local pharmacies, or you can ask your doctor about where to get one. Otherwise, many people living with diabetes head to a clinic and have blood drawn for an A1c test. This test measures your average blood sugar level over the previous three months.

Sugar attaches to a substance called hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. The more sugar you have in your blood, the more sugar will stick to your red blood cells. The A1c test gives a percentage representation of the amount of sugar in your blood, which can tell you what your average blood sugar numbers were over the last three months. Your health care team will help you interpret the A1c results and decide if your diabetes management routine needs some adjustments.

Continuous Glucose Monitors

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are a rising technology in the diabetes field. Only a decade ago, these devices were largely unheard of except in some clinics and hospitals. Today, they are much more commonplace.

CGMs monitor your blood sugar levels on a constant basis without finger sticks and put all of the data directly onto your smartphone through an app. Continuous glucose monitoring allows doctors to calculate an “ambulatory glucose profile,” which can tell you how much of the time your blood sugar is in the normal, high, or low range. As one DiabetesTeam member said, “CGMs are a welcome advance and save many sore fingers!”

Many CGMs test your blood sugar levels through a small detector implanted in your interstitial fluid, under your skin. The downside to this is that your interstitial fluid glucose reading is slightly slower than your blood glucose reading, so the readout is a delayed result. Your current blood glucose may be different from the interstitial result, particularly if you’ve taken insulin, eaten, or exercised recently. In these cases, you might need to double-check the result with a finger-stick blood test.

CGM apps can also be programmed to give you alerts when your sugar levels are going too low (called hypoglycemia) or too high (called hyperglycemia). This can be a great help for those who struggle with fluctuating numbers.

How Your Health Care Team Can Help You

You should always seek medical attention for high or low readings that impact your ability to function. If your blood sugar levels are dropping or rising rapidly, and you’re struggling to treat yourself, call for help. People close to you should know how to give you a glucagon injection in case you aren’t able to treat a severe low yourself.

Whether you’re too high or too low, if you are noticing worrying symptoms or struggling to manage your symptoms, you should also seek emergency medical attention. As one DiabetesTeam member said, “Constantly dealing with high sugars means lows sometimes seem so scary.” If you have concerns, do reach out to your doctor or emergency medical staff for help — even if you’re not sure your symptoms are life-threatening.

For daily concerns about blood sugar levels and whether you need adjustments to your diabetes medications, stay in touch with your health care team. This may include your doctor, diabetes care nurse, diabetes educator, or dietitian. You can also find information about lifestyle changes, wellness when living with diabetes, and other resources on the American Diabetes Association website.

Before you take any diabetes advice (including recommendations in this article), always consult your health care team. They know you best and can help you decide if certain treatments or adjustments are a good idea for you. Your doctor is your best source of accurate, personally tailored information. They can help you determine what ranges of blood sugars are safe and if your regimen needs adjustments.

Talk With Others Who Understand

DiabetesTeam is the social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones. On DiabetesTeam, more than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes.

Are you living with diabetes and learning how best to manage your blood sugar levels? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on August 23, 2022
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Robert Hurd, M.D. is a professor of endocrinology and health care ethics at Xavier University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
Marnie Willman is a Ph.D. candidate in medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. Learn more about her here

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