Blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar levels) are signs of how well diabetes is being controlled and how well the plan of care (diet, exercise, and medication) is working. If the blood sugar levels are consistently under control (with levels near normal), diabetes complications may be prevented or slowed down in their progression.
Checking blood glucose levels regularly is very important in proper diabetes management. Current methods of blood sugar monitoring require a blood sample. Blood sugar monitoring can be done at home with a variety of invasive devices to obtain the blood sample (invasive means the penetration of body tissue with a medical instrument).
Usually a drop of blood obtained through a finger prick is sufficient to use on a test strip that is then measured in a monitor. A finger prick can be done with a small lancet (special needle) or with a spring-loaded lancet device that punctures the fingertip quickly. The drop of blood is placed on a testing strip. The testing strip is then placed in a blood glucose monitor (also called a glucose meter) which reads the blood sugar level.
There are many types of monitors on the market today, ranging in price, ease of use, size, portability, and length of testing time. Each monitor requires its own type of testing strip. Blood glucose monitors have been found to be accurate and reliable if correctly used, and most monitors provide results within two minutes. Some glucose monitors can also give verbal testing instructions and verbal test results for people who are visually or physically impaired. There are also glucose monitors available that provide verbal instructions in Spanish and other languages.
Persons with diabetes may have to check their blood sugar levels up to four times a day. Blood sugar levels can be affected by several factors, including the following:
- diabetes medication
Certain blood glucose monitors are equipped with data-management systems, which means your blood glucose measurement is automatically stored each time. Some physician offices have computer systems compatible with these data-management systems, which allows the blood sugar level recordings, and other information, to be transferred electronically. One advantage of a data-management system is the ability to plot a graph on the computer depicting patterns of blood sugar levels.
A finger prick can become painful and difficult for a person with diabetes to do on a regular basis. Several noninvasive devices (that do not require an actual blood sample) are currently being researched to provide persons with diabetes an alternative. However, most noninvasive blood glucose monitoring devices have not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some noninvasive devices currently under investigation include:
- the use of infrared light to shine through the forearm or finger
- the use of low-level electrical currents to draw blood up through the skin
- the use of saliva or tears to measure glucose levels
Blood sugar levels over 200 mg/dL (mg/dL = milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) or under 60 mg/dL are considered unhealthy. High blood sugar levels (above 200 mg/dL) may be a sign of inadequate levels of insulin, caused by diabetes medication, overeating, lack of exercise, or other factors. Low blood sugar levels (below 70 mg/dL) may be a caused by taking too much insulin, skipping or postponing a meal, over-exercising, excessive alcohol consumption, or other factors.
The following are the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- rapid weight loss
- feeling sick
- blurred vision
The following are the most common symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- sudden moodiness or behavior changes
- pale skin color
Be sure to check with your insurance company to determine if blood glucose monitoring equipment and testing supplies are covered under your plan. If not, many suppliers offer rebates and/or discounted prices on trade-ins.