Monitoring Blood Sugar

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Successfully treating diabetes requires different strategies for the various types, and people with the illness must do what is best for them within those strategies. But two things are crucial: monitoring blood glucose levels and, in many cases, using insulin and perhaps other drugs.

Even diabetics who are able to carefully control their glucose can experience a wide range in levels, depending on many variables such as what they have eaten, their activity and stress level, illness, and the amount of sleep they get. Therefore, all people with diabetes must check their blood sugar several times a day and monitor its levels closely. First of all, people who can keep their blood glucose levels at ideal levels will feel

A young girl measures her blood glucose level with the assistance of a nurse in order to properly manage her medicine, food intake, and activity levels.

better and have more energy, and they can also prevent or hold off diabetic complications longer. According to the National Institutes of Health, ideal blood glucose levels are 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals and less than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after the start of a meal.

A check of blood sugar levels must be done several times a day. The number of times is determined by the type of diabetes, the kind of treatment used, and how stable the person's glucose levels usually are.

People with type 1 or 2 who are taking insulin need to test before each meal and at bedtime. Why? These checks will give them the information they need to adjust their insulin dose. People with diabetes cannot know how well they are controlling their blood glucose, no matter how well they feel, unless they do these frequent checks. For most people with type 2 diabetes, testing just twice daily—before breakfast and dinner—gives enough information if blood glucose levels are fairly stable.

Checking blood glucose can also be helpful at other times— for instance, after trying a food not normally on one's diet—to see how it affects glucose levels. Before exercise is another good time. The test will reveal whether eating before exercising is a good idea or if exercise can be used to bring down the level. Finally, if a diabetic person has been experiencing unstable glucose levels and is about to drive, a test beforehand will reveal if hypoglycemia might be a problem. Hypoglycemia can cause the brain to not function as well as it normally does, which can be dangerous while driving.

Checking one's blood sugar levels requires a tiny sample of blood, usually from a fingertip. It is taken with a lancet, which is similar to a small needle and now often built into blood glucose meters. The lancet penetrates the skin just enough to get a drop of blood. Using the side of a finger is recommended, since the sides are less sensitive than the tips, as well as changing fingers often, so any one finger does not get sore or too sensitive.

Then the sample is placed on a test strip, also stored in the meter, which is coated with special chemicals that react with the glucose. The test strip is placed in the glucose meter for the reading, and the number will show on a small screen.

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