How to Monitor Blood Sugar Effectively
The whole point of taking medications, eating healthy foods in moderate portions and exercising is to keep your blood sugar within reasonable targets–and there's no way to know how well these steps are working without checking your blood sugar regularly.
The more often you test, the better you can hone in on the perfect combination of strategies. See the tips below for successful blood sugar monitoring.
Know the Signs of High and Low Blood Sugar
Common signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are confusion, hunger, weakness, shakiness, perspiration, rapid heart beat, dizziness, nervousness or irritability. Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) include, fatigue, thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision, hunger and sudden weight loss. You won’t necessarily have all the symptoms at the same time, and symptoms can vary from episode to episode. Some people report unusual symptoms such as their nose going numb or their ears ringing. If you find this to be true for you, let your doctor in on your discovery.
Master the Self-Test
Get specific directions from your doctor or someone in his office on how to do a self-test. You’ll start by sticking your finger with a small needle, called a lancet. Some meters have a built in lancet that takes blood from your forearm or thigh, and there are also spring-loaded lancing devices, that resemble a pen, that make sticking yourself less painful. If you use your fingertip, stick the side of your fingertip by your fingernail to avoid having sore spots on your finger pads. Apply the drop of blood to a testing strip. Your meter will provide results in about 5 to 30 seconds, and you’ll record the numbers in a log book; some meters record and store the results.
Get Specifics on What Times of Day You Should Check Blood Sugar
Everyone’s schedule will be different, so talk to your doctor.
Discuss Meter Options with Your Doctor
Call your insurance company, as well, before making a purchase. Many cover some or all of the cost of meters and other supplies. You can also ask for a referral to a diabetes educator, who might have samples of meters available for you to see and touch.
Know What to Do if Your Results are Too Low
If you get a result of 70 mg/dl or under, your blood sugar is too low and you should consume 15 grams of carbohydrates. Even if you feel okay, don’t wait for the symptoms of hypoglycemia to kick in. Take three to four glucose tablets, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1 tablespoon of honey, six Lifesaver candies, 3/4 cup regular soda or 1 tablespoon of sugar dissolved in water. (A candy bar isn’t ideal because the fat it contains can delay the glucose-raising effect.) Wait about 15 minutes, then check your blood sugar again.
Be Prepared to Bring Down High Blood Sugar
First, clarify with your doctor what level is too high for you. It could be 250 mg/dl, or it could be higher. Whatever the cut-off point, you’ll need to call your doctor if you hit it. You’ll also need to alert your doctor’s office if you have elevated readings (higher than your designated goals) for more than three days in a row. Often, illness, stress, missing a dose of medication or eating too much can cause spikes in your blood sugar.
Address High Morning Blood Sugar
During the wee hours of the morning, the body secretes hormones that inhibit insulin so that more glucose is available to the body at the start of the day–not what you need if you have diabetes. A related phenomenon can happen if your blood sugar drops too low in the middle of the night, causing your body to react–actually, to overreact–by releasing hormones that raise blood sugar. If you notice a pattern of high morning blood sugar, talk to your doctor. You may need to change the type or dosage of medication or insulin you take, or when you take it or possibly tweak your evening eating habits. Your blood glucose will be easier to manage throughout the day if you can start the day off with normal readings.
Know When to Check More Often
You’ll want to do extra checks when you’re sick or under significant stress. Your doctor may also request that you do extra checks when you make a change to your treatment plan.
How Often Should You Check Your Blood Sugar?
The point of checking your blood sugar is to see what effect the foods you are eating, the medications you are taking and the exercise you are doing have on your levels, so you can tell how well they’re working. The more often you check, the more information you’ll have. Here are general guidelines:
If you aren’t taking oral medications or insulin, your doctor will most likely recommend that you check your glucose levels in the morning and before dinner and possibly at bedtime, either daily or occasionally. This will tell him what your blood sugar is when you start your day and how the meals you eat during the day affect you. If by nightfall your blood sugars are in the target range, that means your blood sugars most likely have stayed in target range. An A1C test will confirm if this is so.
If you are taking oral medications, your doctor will probably recommend checking more often–maybe before certain meals and two hours after the start of a meal. This regimen will tell him what your blood sugar is going into the meal and what effect your meal has on your blood sugar. He can use this information to adjust your medications or give you some dietary advice to get your blood sugar back in target range.
If you are taking insulin, your doctor will likely have you check before meals and occasionally after meals and at bedtime. (If you are taking Lantus, a once-a-day “background” insulin, you may not be asked to check before each meal. This insulin is adjusted according to morning fasting blood sugar levels.) If you wake up in the morning sweaty, with the bed sheets all askew and you’ve have had a bad dream, you may have experienced low blood sugar in the middle of the night. Your doctor may ask you to set your alarm and check your blood sugar at 3 a.m. to see if you are experiencing hypoglycemia in the middle of the night.