Monitoring Your Blood Sugar Level
Last Updated February 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert “Chuck” Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP
If you have diabetes, its important to monitor your blood sugar at different times of the day and throughout the year. There are 3 tools that can help you do this and, therefore, manage your diabetes: A blood test done every three months, blood tests taken every day, and a system that constantly monitors your blood glucose.
The 3-month blood test is called an A1C test. This test reflects your blood sugar control over the past 2-3 months. Testing your A1C level every 3 months is the best way for you and your doctor to understand how well your blood sugar levels are controlled. Your doctor will likely be the one who orders an A1C test. However, you can also purchase over-the-counter A1C testing kits that you can use at home. Your A1C goal will be determined by your doctor. However, the goal is generally less than 7% or 8%, depending on your age.
The daily blood test is done with a blood glucose monitor . This is also called a home blood sugar meter, a glucometer, or a glucose meter. This type of testing is often referred to as self-monitoring of blood glucose. Your doctor may prescribe a BGM, especially if your blood sugar fluctuates. They will show you how to use it.
What Happens During A Diabetes Test
There are several ways to screen for and diagnose diabetes. Most tests involve measuring glucose levels in the blood.
To get a blood sample, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
The different types of glucose blood tests include:
- Blood glucose test, also known as fasting blood glucose. Before the test, you will need to fast for eight hours before the test. This test is often used as a screening test for diabetes. It may be repeated to confirm a diagnosis.
- Oral glucose tolerance test . This test also requires fasting before the test. When you arrive for your test, a blood sample will be taken. You will then drink a sugary liquid that contains glucose. About two hours later, another blood sample will be taken.
- Random blood sugar. This test can be taken at any time. No fasting is required.
- Hemoglobin A1c . This test measures the average amount of glucose attached to hemoglobin over the past 3 months. Hemoglobin is the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. No fasting is required for this test.
Is The A1c Test Used During Pregnancy
Health care professionals may use the A1C test early in pregnancy to see if a woman with risk factors had undiagnosed diabetes before becoming pregnant. Since the A1C test reflects your average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months, testing early in pregnancy may include values reflecting time before you were pregnant. The glucose challenge test or the oral glucose tolerance test are used to check for gestational diabetes, usually between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you had gestational diabetes, you should be tested for diabetes no later than 12 weeks after your baby is born. If your blood glucose is still high, you may have type 2 diabetes. Even if your blood glucose is normal, you still have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes in the future and should get tested every 3 years.
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Why Are Blood Tests Done To Screen For Diabetes
Many people who have diabetes don’t feel unwell in the early stages. By the time you get symptoms of diabetes, there may already be damage to important parts of your body. Treatment of diabetes can slow down further complications but cant usually repair this damage. This is why your healthcare provider might test you for diabetes even if you feel well.
Testing people for a condition like diabetes when they do not have any symptoms is called screening. Studies have been done to work out who is more likely to have diabetes so they can be screened.
Diabetes is more common in:
- Mori, Pasifika and Indo-Asian people
- older people
- people who have whnau/family members with diabetes.
These people should have regular screening tests for diabetes.
How Does Blood Glucose Work
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the main sugar found in your blood. When you eat or drink, your body breaks down carbohydrates in the food or liquid into sugar for energy.
Then your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which helps blood sugar enter your bodys cells. It also helps your body store blood sugar for later use. As the cells use the blood sugar, glucose and insulin levels in the blood decrease.
But with diabetes, your body has trouble regulating glucose. Either your pancreas doesnt make enough insulin, or your body doesnt process insulin effectively. Therefore, the amount of sugar in your blood is higher than normal. And a lot of glucose in your blood is bad for your body.
A fasting blood glucose test measures the amount of glucose in your blood when it should be at its lowest. That happens in the morning and when you havent had anything to eat or drink for a while.
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Why Are Some Children Screened For Diabetes
Diabetes can also occur in children. Most children with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin. However, children who become overweight can also develop type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common. For this reason, obese children and young people should have a screening blood test for diabetes, especially if there are other people in the whnau/family who have diabetes.
Who Should Get Testing
Your doctor may include glucose testing in a panel of tests for background health information, such as during an annual examination. Your doctor may also want to screen you for elevated glucose if you are at a higher-than-average risk of diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes include:
- Being 45 years of age or older
- Being overweight or obese
- Sores that dont heal quickly
- Feeling very tired
Additionally, your doctor may order glucose testing if you have symptoms of low blood sugar or other health conditions.
Glucose testing is also an important part of managing prediabetes and diabetes after they are diagnosed.
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What Do I Do With The Results
You need to keep track of your results. There are a few ways you can do this. You can write them down in a record book. Use a small notebook or ask your doctor for a blood testing record book. Depending on the type of monitor you have, you may be able to keep track of the results on your computer or smartphone. Whatever method you use, you may also want to keep track of what you have eaten, when you took medicine or insulin, and how active youve been during the day. This will help you see how these things affect your blood sugar. Talk with your doctor about what is a good range for your blood sugar level and what to do if your blood sugar is not within that range.
How Do I Pick A Glucose Meter
Your doctor will make a recommendation. Check with your health insurance plan to see if it will pay for your BGM, its supplies, or a CGM. If so, your plan may only pay for a certain meter.
Shop around and compare costs. Consider what features are important to you. For example, some meters are made for people who have poor eyesight. If you want to pay a little more money, you can get a BGM that stores the results in its memory. This allows you to compare results from several days at one time.
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Why Do Pregnant Women Need To Be Screened For Diabetes
During pregnancy, some women develop a type of diabetes known as gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes happens to about 48% of all pregnant women. It can lead to problems for both mother and baby if it is not treated. This is why all pregnant women should be screened for diabetes. Read more about gestational diabetes.
Which Tests Help My Health Care Professional Know What Kind Of Diabetes I Have
Even though the tests described here can confirm that you have diabetes, they cant identify what type you have. Sometimes health care professionals are unsure if diabetes is type 1 or type 2. A rare type of diabetes that can occur in babies, called monogenic diabetes, can also be mistaken for type 1 diabetes. Treatment depends on the type of diabetes, so knowing which type you have is important.
To find out if your diabetes is type 1, your health care professional may look for certain autoantibodies. Autoantibodies are antibodies that mistakenly attack your healthy tissues and cells. The presence of one or more of several types of autoantibodies specific to diabetes is common in type 1 diabetes, but not in type 2 or monogenic diabetes. A health care professional will have to draw your blood for this test.
If you had diabetes while you were pregnant, you should get tested no later than 12 weeks after your baby is born to see if you have type 2 diabetes.
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Is There Anything Else I Need To Know About Diabetes Testing
If you’ve been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you will need to monitor blood glucose levels daily, often several times a day. Your health care provider can recommend a kit you can use at home. Most kits include a lancet, a device that pricks your finger. You will use this to collect a drop of blood for testing. There are some newer kits available that don’t require pricking your finger. Some pregnant women with gestational diabetes may also need to monitor their glucose levels in this way.
People with type 2 diabetes will also have to check their blood sugar on a regular basis. If you have type 2 diabetes, talk to your provider about how often it should be checked.
People with type 2 diabetes may also need to have their insulin levels checked regularly. Insulin plays a key role in keeping glucose at the right levels. An insulin in blood test is done at a provider’s office.
How Do I Prepare For The Plasma Glucose Level Test And How Are The Results Interpreted
To get an accurate plasma glucose level, you must have fasted for at least 8 hours prior to the test. When you report to the clinic or laboratory, a small sample of blood will be taken from a vein in your arm. According to the practice recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, the results of the blood test are interpreted as follows:
Fasting blood glucose level
- If your blood glucose level is 70 to 99* mg/dL . . .
- What it means: Your glucose level is within the normal range
*Values between 50 and 70 are often seen in healthy people
**The condition of “prediabetes” puts you at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood lipid disorders
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/21/2018.
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How Age Affects A T1d Diagnosis
There are some side effects in the overall health of a person with T1D that present themselves in time. Diabetic eye disease and kidney, nerve or circulation damage can appear in people who have had T1D for 15 years or more. With proper maintenance and routine checkups, these effects can often be limited or avoided altogether.
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When Should I Check My Blood Sugar More Frequently
- If your diabetes medicine changes
- If you begin taking other kinds of medicines
- If you change your diet
- If your exercise routine or activity level changes
- If your stress level increases
- If youre sick. When you are sick, even without eating, your sugar levels may run high, so testing is important.
Follow your doctors testing recommendations during this time. Continue testing more often until you have maintained your blood sugar goal values for at least 1 week. Or continue testing until your doctor advises you that more frequent testing is no longer necessary.
Signs And Symptoms Of Diabetes
Anyone can develop diabetes. Thats why its important to get tested if you notice any of the signs or symptoms. These arent always easy to spot. In fact, type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed through blood tests for other conditions or health issues instead.
Always talk to your doctor about any symptoms youre worried about, even if youve been tested. If youre not offered a test, you can ask for one .
If you feel very unwell or your symptoms have come on quickly seek an urgent appointment with your GP or call NHS 111.
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Who Should Be Tested For Diabetes
Anyone who has symptoms of diabetes should be tested for the disease. Some people will not have any symptoms but may have risk factors for diabetes and need to be tested. Testing allows health care professionals to find diabetes sooner and work with their patients to manage diabetes and prevent complications.
Testing also allows health care professionals to find prediabetes. Making lifestyle changes to lose a modest amount of weight if you are overweight may help you delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
What Does A Blood Sugar Test Do
Your doctor may order a blood sugar test to see if you have diabetes or prediabetes. The test will measure the amount of glucose in your blood.
Your body takes carbohydrates found in foods like grains and fruits and converts them into glucose. Glucose, a sugar, is one of the bodys main sources of energy.
For people with diabetes, a home test helps monitor blood sugar levels. Taking a blood sugar test can help determine your blood sugar level to see if you need to adjust your diet, exercise, or diabetes medications.
Ketoacidosis occurs when your body starts using only fat for fuel. Hyperglycemia over a long period can increase your risk for neuropathy , along with heart, kidney, and eye diseases.
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The Big Picture: Monitoring Treatment
This relatively simple blood test can tell you a lot. The test results give you a picture of your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months. The higher the levels, the greater your risk of developing diabetes complications. Your doctor will tell you how often you need the A1C test, but usually youll have the test at least twice a year if youre meeting your treatment goals. If you’re not meeting your goals or you change treatments, you may need to get an A1C test more often.
When Does A Person Need To Have Their Blood Glucose Measured With This Test
Prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes often have no symptoms at first. A person can have the condition and not know it. Healthcare providers usually order a fasting blood sugar test:
- As part of a standard annual physical examination to monitor a persons blood glucose over time.
- For pregnant women to ensure that pregnancy hormones are not causing diabetes.
- When a person has symptoms of diabetes, a family history of diabetes or risk factors for diabetes .
- When a person has had a previous blood glucose level that was higher than normal.
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Can Other Blood Glucose Tests Be Used To Diagnose Type 2 Diabetes And Prediabetes
Yes. Health care professionals also use the fasting plasma glucose test and the OGTT to diagnose type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. For these blood glucose tests used to diagnose diabetes, you must fast at least 8 hours before you have your blood drawn. If you have symptoms of diabetes, your doctor may use the random plasma glucose test, which doesnt require fasting. In some cases, health care professionals use the A1C test to help confirm the results of another blood glucose test.
Check Your Blood Sugar If:
- You have symptoms of low blood sugar . This includes dizziness, shaking, sweating, chills, and confusion.
- You have symptoms of high blood sugar , which include sleepiness, blurry vision, frequent urination, and excessive thirst.
- You have a job in which poor blood sugar control could cause safety problems.
- You need help deciding if its safe to drive or perform other tasks that require concentration if you are taking insulin or have had hypoglycemia in the past.
You need to learn how meals, physical activity, and medicine affect your blood sugar level.
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