The Importance of Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels for People with Diabetes

Why Is Blood Sugar Monitoring Important?

Blood sugar monitoring is one of the most critical aspects of managing diabetes, especially for those who take insulin and have type 1 diabetes. Monitoring is critical to find out how well your treatment is working. The results can help you make better decisions regarding dosing insulin, food, and physical activity. It can help you see how your lifestyle and medications affect your blood sugar levels, so your healthcare provider can advise on how you can improve or what you should maintain.

By checking your blood sugar levels routinely, you’ll know when it’s too high or too low – both of which can cause symptoms and serious health problems.

A blood sugar monitor and a senior pricking their hand

Symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst or hunger

If you don’t get treatment, high blood sugar levels can cause complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Poor blood flow

Meanwhile, low blood sugar levels can cause symptoms like

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Intense hunger
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Feeling anxious
  • Pounding heart

Low blood sugar can lead to serious problems, like coma and seizures, when left unmanaged.

Several things can affect your blood sugar; and you can learn to predict them with time and practice. In contrast, others are difficult or impossible to predict, and that’s why blood sugar monitoring is vital and necessary if your doctor recommends doing so.

Blood sugar levels usually rise by:

  • Consuming carbohydrates
  • Not taking enough or missing a dose of diabetes medication or insulin
  • Lack of exercise or getting less active than usual
  • Taking corticosteroid medications
  • Stress
  • Surgery
  • Illnesses
  • Smoking
  • Dehydration
  • Puberty
  • Dawn phenomenon (an early-morning rise in blood sugar due to natural fluctuations in hormones)

Meanwhile, these are the following situations that usually lower your blood sugar:

  • Missing meals
  • Physical activity
  • Taking too many diabetes meds or insulin

Here are other situations that can raise or lower your blood sugar, depending on different factors and your unique biology:

  • Menstruation
  • Interactions with non-diabetes medications
  • Timing of food or medication intake
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages

Due to all these varying factors, it’s essential to monitor your blood sugar – it’s the only way to know when your blood sugar levels are changing.

How can I Monitor Blood Sugar at Home?

There are two main ways to monitor blood sugar at home if you have diabetes:

  • With a glucose meter and finger stick
  • With a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)

You can choose either or both of these methods and devices for different reasons, depending on the following:

  • What kind of diabetes do you have
  • How often does your doctor or healthcare provider recommend a blood sugar check
  • Your access to the device, which varies due to the cost and coverage of your medical insurance
  • Your overall health

Glucose meters and test strips offer the most common way to monitor blood sugar levels. Those small, pocket-sized blood sugar monitoring devices can check glucose levels in seconds and only use a small drop of blood. Most of them are portable and battery-operated. There are many options out there, and one of the most accurate ones is diabetic meters like the Contour Next One blood glucose monitoring system.

With these devices, you will need to prick your fingertip with a small needle to draw a drop of blood, and then you place that drop against a test strip in the glucose meter. The meter will show your blood sugar level within seconds.

However, it only measures blood glucose at the moment in time, so people with diabetes, especially those who take insulin, often need to check their blood sugar levels several times a day using this device.

If you have medical insurance, you can check with them to see if it covers glucose meters and test strips. Some insurance plans only cover certain brands.

How to Use a Blood Sugar Monitoring Device

Blood sugar

Even though there are many different kinds of blood sugar monitoring devices or meters in the market today, most of them almost work the same way. If you want to learn how to use one, here are some of the steps that you can follow:

  • Ensure that the blood sugar meter is clean before using it.
  • Get one test strip from the container. Always close the container properly after getting one because when exposed to moisture, the strips can be damaged.
  • Before you use the device, wash your hands with soap and warm water first, and make sure to dry them well. After that, massage your hand to get blood into the finger that you will be pricking.
  • Get the lancet that comes with the device and use it to prick your finger. Squeeze your finger from the base and put a small drop of blood onto the test strip. Then, place the strip in the blood sugar meter.
  • After a few seconds, it will display the reading. After testing, it is better that you track and record your results. You can also add notes about what you think may have caused that reading, like the foods you ate and the activities you did.
  • Always dispose of the used lancet and test strip properly in a trash container.

When using a blood sugar meter, you need to make sure that you do not share it with anyone else, even with family members. This will help you avoid infections. Also, make sure that you keep the test strips in the container provided and do not let them be exposed to moisture, cold temperatures, and heat.

When Should You Take Your Blood Sugar?

If you have diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar regularly is important to ensure that it stays within a healthy range. The frequency of monitoring and the times at which you should test your blood sugar can vary depending on several factors, including the type of diabetes you have, your treatment plan, and your overall health.

In general, people with diabetes should aim to test their blood sugar at least several times a day, as their healthcare provider recommends. This is particularly important if you take insulin or other medications that can affect your blood sugar levels.

Here are some common times when you might want to test your blood sugar:

  • When you wake up: Your blood sugar level after waking up is known as fasting glucose. It can help you assess how much blood sugar levels are overnight, especially if you also check your blood sugar before sleeping.
  • Before meals: Testing your blood sugar before meals can help you determine if your pre-meal blood sugar is within your target range and can help you adjust your insulin or medication dosage as needed.
  • After meals: Testing your blood sugar after meals can help you see how different foods and portion sizes affect your blood sugar and can help you adjust your meal plan accordingly.
  • Before and after exercise: Testing your blood sugar before and after exercise can help you see how physical activity affects your blood sugar levels and can help you adjust your insulin or medication dosage and/or snack intake to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  • Before bedtime: Testing your blood sugar before bedtime can help you ensure that your blood sugar is within your target range overnight and can help you adjust your insulin or medication dosage as needed. If you experience low blood sugar while sleeping can be dangerous because you may not wake up right away due to the symptoms. Consequently, going to sleep consistently with high blood sugar can be harmful to your health in the long run because it will likely be elevated for the hours you’ve been sleeping.

How Often Should You Check Your Blood Sugar?

The result of blood sugar tests will determine how often should a person with diabetes monitor their blood glucose level. The frequency of monitoring varies depending on the type of diabetes, the demands of your daily life, and the treatment plan recommended by the doctor. Your healthcare provider will give you suggestions as to how often you should check.

People who may benefit from more regular blood sugar monitoring include those who:

  • Take insulin
  • Are you having difficulty reaching blood glucose targets
  • Have frequent low blood sugar episodes
  • Have low blood glucose levels without the usual symptoms and warning signs
  • Are pregnant
  • Are sick
  • Just had surgery

What if You Have a Continuous Blood Glucose Monitor?

a CGM on a child’s arm with results transmitting to a smartphone app

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are medical devices used to measure glucose levels in a patient’s blood on a continuous basis. People with diabetes commonly use them to monitor their glucose levels in real-time. This is an excellent option for diabetes patients who are tired of pricking their fingertips several times a day. 

A CGM consists of a small sensor inserted under the skin, typically on the abdomen or upper arm, which continuously measures glucose levels in the interstitial fluid (the fluid surrounding the body’s cells) and transmits the data to a receiver or a smartphone app.

To use a CGM, the patient first inserts the sensor under the skin using a special applicator. Depending on the brand and model, the sensor is typically changed every 7-14 days. Once the sensor is in place, the patient can start receiving real-time glucose readings on their receiver or smartphone app.

The CGM can also provide alerts when glucose levels are too high or too low, allowing the patient to take action before a serious medical emergency occurs. In addition, the device can store glucose data over time, which can be used by healthcare professionals to adjust treatment plans and improve diabetes management.

But like all technology, CGMs can sometimes fail or create inaccurate results. So don’t always rely on its effects, especially if the readings don’t match the symptoms of low or high blood sugar you’re experiencing or if you feel fine, yet the monitor gives a high or low reading. Also, some medications like acetaminophen, lisinopril, and albuterol may interfere with the accuracy of CGM readings, especially in older models. You can double-check using finger stick checks.

Ask your healthcare provider about CGM options if you prefer this over conventional glucose monitors. Check with them about using this device if you’re pregnant, on dialysis, or critically ill, as these conditions may affect blood sugar readings. You’ll also need to check with your insurance company if they can cover the cost of this device.

What is the Target Range?

If you have diabetes, the target range for blood sugar varies from person to person. You and your healthcare provider will decide the ideal target range for you, which will likely change throughout your life.

The target range for blood glucose varies based on factors like:

  • How long you’ve had diabetes
  • Age and life expectancy
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes complications like retinopathy, neuropathy, and nephropathy
  • Hypoglycemia unawareness, or not experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar
  • Pregnant or trying to conceive
  • Access to diabetes meds and blood glucose monitors
  • Other health conditions that may affect blood sugar

Blood sugar levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Generally, the target blood sugar levels for diabetic persons should be between 80-130 mg/dL before meals and less than 180 mg/dL after meals.

Those whose ages are 60 years and above and those with health conditions that affect their lungs, heart, kidneys, and ability to feel when their blood sugar levels have gone low should aim to keep it between 100 to 140 mg/dL.

Pregnant women must also maintain a fasting blood sugar level of less than 95 mg/dl.

Risks of Monitoring Blood Sugar

Monitoring blood sugar is generally considered safe and carries minimal risks. However, there are a few potential risks and complications associated with blood sugar monitoring that you should be aware of, including:

  • Infection: If you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), there is a small risk of infection at the site where the sensor is inserted. This risk is minimized by following proper insertion and maintenance procedures.
  • Skin irritation: Some people may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to the adhesive used to secure the CGM sensor or the lancet used to prick the finger for traditional blood glucose monitoring.
  • Bleeding or bruising: If you use traditional blood glucose monitoring, there is a small risk of bleeding or bruising at the site where the lancet pricks the finger.
  • Hypoglycemia: Frequent blood sugar monitoring can lead to overcorrection and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) if insulin or other medications are adjusted too aggressively based on the results.
  • Anxiety or stress: Frequent monitoring and tracking of blood sugar levels can lead to increased anxiety or stress related to managing diabetes.

It is essential to discuss any concerns or potential risks with your healthcare provider and follow proper blood sugar monitoring procedures to minimize the risks associated with this essential part of diabetes management.

Conclusion

Diabetes is indeed one of the challenging ailments that many people are struggling with. But with proper diet, exercise, and blood sugar monitoring, you will be able to keep your body healthy. Therefore, if you have diabetes or you want to prevent it, it is better to have your own blood sugar monitoring device at home. This way, you can always check if your blood glucose levels are normal or if you need to seek help from your doctor. We hope this post helped you learn more about the importance of monitoring blood sugar levels for people with diabetes.