Having diabetes can make it hard to keep your blood sugar in a normal range, but it’s important to have steady blood sugar levels. Diabetes happens when blood sugar stays elevated for a long period of time. Eventually, elevated blood sugar will cause damage to blood vessels throughout the body. The eyes, kidneys, and nerves in the hands and feet are especially susceptible to damage from diabetes. Diabetes affects your whole body, so it’s important to know how to manage your blood sugar levels and what’s considered a normal blood sugar level.
How blood sugar works
When you eat certain foods, like fruit and pasta, the carbohydrates in the food break down into sugar for the body to digest. The hormone insulin that is created by the pancreas allows sugar to enter the cells to be used as energy. With diabetes, you either don’t create enough insulin (type 1 diabetes), or your body can’t use the insulin it produces (type 2 diabetes). When this happens, sugar builds up in the blood and affects the whole body.
Normal blood sugar levels
If you have diabetes, it’s crucial to keep your blood sugar levels within a normal range. If your blood sugar gets too high, it can cause headaches, trouble concentrating, and blurred vision. If your blood sugar gets too low, you enter a state of hypoglycemia where you might experience dizziness, intense sweating, and irritability. Hypoglycemia can be especially problematic during the middle of the night.
We’ve created a handy blood sugar levels chart to help you visualize a healthy blood sugar range.
Testing blood sugar levels
Testing your blood sugar used to be a scary process where you’d have to painfully prick your finger to draw blood, feed it into a glucose meter, and hope it was within a healthy range. But now, needles are so small that many people report not feeling the prick at all. Even better, your fingertips are no longer the only place you can draw blood. Other acceptable body parts for checking blood sugar include the arm, stomach, and even leg.
If you’re opposed to drawing blood, a continuous glucose meter (CGM) might be a good option for you. A CGM sensor is placed beneath your skin (usually around the stomach) and continuously monitors your blood sugar levels, so you don’t have to draw blood. However, you might have to calibrate it about twice a day to make sure it’s working properly.
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, your doctor will check your HbA1c levels, also known as hemoglobin A1c or just A1c. This shows your blood sugar levels over a span of about three months. Seeing a larger trend like this will allow your doctor to tailor your blood sugar testing regimen and allow you to plan your life around your diabetes more effectively. For people without diabetes, this number should be below 5.7%; for those with diabetes, it should be less than 7.0%.
When to test your blood sugar
You might think that testing your blood sugar at the same time every day is a good idea, but doctors say this isn’t necessarily the case. It’s more important to check your blood sugar levels when you change something, like eating a new food or doing a physical activity.
Keep a log of the following things to help you and your doctor see trends over time:
- What medication you’re on
- When you take it
- What dosage you’re taking
- What you ate
- When you ate
- How the food made you feel
- What kind of physical exercise you’ve done
- How intense that exercise was
Tracking these things will help you and your doctor see how well your treatment is working and how to effectively measure you blood sugar levels in the future.