Your Complete Guide To Diabetes And Blood Sugar Levels

Posted on August 24, 2013 at 9:00 PM

What You Need To Know About Blood Sugar Levels

Understanding blood sugar levels is a key aspect when it comes to diabetes self-management. After all, the main aim of diabetes treatment is to keep the blood glucose levels within a specified range. Moreover, monitoring your blood glucose will help you understand the relationship between food, blood glucose, insulin, and exercise. 

Over time, the readings will give you and your health professionals the information needed to determine the best management strategy for your diabetes. Plus, keeping the blood sugar levels within a target range can go a long way in reducing the risk of developing a wide range of diabetes-related complications. 

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about blood sugar, and its relationship with diabetes. 

What is Blood Sugar?

Blood sugar is simple the “sugar” or glucose content found in your blood. Glucose is a vital source of energy for all your muscles and organs. It essentially the fuel that runs your body, which explains why low blood sugar levels often leads to dizziness and tiredness. 

Blood sugar is primarily obtained from the food you eat, and is then distributed throughout the body through a complex system involving the liver, pancreas, and small intestines. However, your body only wants the sugars up to a certain level. As such, it releases a hormone called insulin to keep the amount of sugar in your blood under optimal levels. 

Is there a difference between blood sugar and glucose? 

In general, the terms blood sugar and glucose are often used interchangeably. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that glucose isn’t really “sugar”, as in the sugar we put in our coffee or tea. Sugar occurs in a number of forms, including lactose, fructose, maltose, and galactose. When you eat a fruit or drink a cup of milk, the sugars contained in them are converted into glucose. So, when you hear anyone say blood sugar, what they mean is glucose. 

When the blood sugar levels are low, it leads to a condition known as hypoglycemia. It’s characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, general weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, and feeling anxious. More severe symptoms exist and can range from inability to concentrate, confusion, stroke, or seizure. 

In a similar way, having high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, is also dangerous. It’s often characterized by insatiable thirst, rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, and frequent trips to the bathroom. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and you should always consult a physician on the same. 

If you have diabetes, the body is either unable to make enough insulin, or the insulin it produces doesn’t work as it should. This causes the blood sugar levels to skyrocket in your blood. If left uncontrolled, high levels of blood sugar can lead to severe organ damage. 

Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels 

Glucose testing is primarily done for people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is normally diagnosed in children and teenagers whose bodies are unable to produce enough insulin. The condition can be chronic or long-term, requiring an ongoing treatment. Late type 1 diabetes has been shown to affect people between the ages of 30 and 40. 

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is usually diagnosed in obese and overweight adults, though it can affect younger people too. It occurs when the body is unable to make enough insulin or when the insulin produced in the body is unable to work effectively. The effects of type 2 diabetes can be reduced through healthy eating and weight loss. 

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman develops diabetes while she’s pregnant. In most cases, it goes away when you give birth. 

Once diabetes is diagnosed, frequent blood sugar tests may need to be conducted to establish if the condition is being managed well. High blood glucose levels may be a sign that diabetes is not being managed properly by the treatment. 

It’s important to note that there are other possible causes of high blood glucose levels, including:

•    Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)

•    Overactive thyroid, also referred to as hyperthyroidism

•    Stress on the body from trauma, illness, or surgery

•    Taking medications like steroids

In some rarer cases, high glucose levels might be a sign of a hormonal disorder known as Cushing syndrome or acromegaly, which is caused by the production of too much cortisol in the body. 

Low blood glucose levels can also be caused by:

•    Starvation

•    Overuse of insulin

•    Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)

•    Liver disease

•    Alcohol abuse

•    Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

•    Kidney disease

•    Addison’s disease

Measuring Blood Glucose Levels

Testing and recording your blood sugar levels regularly is important as it informs you of your body’s response to your diabetes treatment and helps you reinforce your healthy lifestyle choices. More importantly, pattern changes with your blood glucose levels can alert you and your doctor of a possible need for a change in how you’re managing your condition. 

Testing for blood sugar levels can either be done through random tests or fasting tests. Fasting tests require that you don’t eat or drink anything but water for 8 hours before the test. As such, it’s advised that you schedule a fasting test early in the morning so that you don’t need to fast during the day. For a random blood sugar test, you’re allowed to drink and eat beforehand. However, fasting tests are generally more accurate and their results are much easier to interpret. 

Random blood glucose testing can be done at home using diabetic test strips, which are sold as kits. They come in many different types, different price points, and different set of features. Most of them are available online stores, in pharmacies, and diabetic centers around the country. 

Since blood is used, you either need to prick a finger and add a drop of blood onto a testing strip. The strip is then inserted into a meter, which displays your blood glucose level. The frequency and the when you should test your glucose levels will vary based on your individual circumstances. You may want to keep a diary of your records either physically, on a mobile app, or on a website to monitor the condition. 

What You Should Aim For

Effective diabetes management is all about finding a balance between the foods you eat, the medication you take, and how active you are. Since this is quite a delicate balance, it can be quite difficult to keep your blood glucose levels optimal all the time. 

While it’s certainly important to keep the levels to as close to the target as possible to avoid complications, it’s advisable to check with your doctor for the range of levels that are right and safe for you. For this reason, the information discussed below should only be used as a guide. 

Understanding the Results

Normal levels for healthy people range from 70 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl throughout the day. Overall, they will be at their lowest in the morning and before meals at about 70 mg/dl to 90 mg/dl, and their highest an hour after meals, where they can reach 130 mg/dl or higher. 

If you’re wondering about dangerous levels, it’s hard to say exactly which levels are dangerous, unless they are extremely dangerous. Generally, things start to get bad once you cross the 140 mg mark, though symptoms might not become apparent until you’re in the really dangerous category. A reading 60 mg/dl and below is considered dangerously low, and one of 130 mg/dl or more before meals, or 180 mg/dl or higher 2 hours after a meal is considered dangerously high. 

In case a random blood sugar test results are really dangerous, your doctor will order a fasting blood glucose test for diagnosis or perform another test such as the HGBA1C.

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