What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels? Importance of Monitoring After Eating
When you have diabetes, your blood sugar readings are everything. In order to best manage your diabetes care, you need to be educated on the potential signs of a blood sugar spike or drop, along with what blood glucose numbers are typically out of range so you can act accordingly. Your blood sugar levels should be central to every action you make regarding your diabetes care, so you should check your blood sugar as often as needed.
Since glucose is derived from the food you eat, your diet plays a massive role in your blood glucose levels. The period after you have just eaten is one in which you are most likely to experience a blood sugar spike (known as the postprandial period), and so it is an especially important time to monitor your blood sugar.
For more information on target blood sugar readings, how to check your blood sugar, and how to follow a diabetes-friendly diet, read on!
Diabetes is a disease where the body’s blood sugar levels are too high (meaning 200 mg/dL or greater) because insulin can’t move the glucose into cells for use or storage. This occurs because of a lack of insulin or because of an inefficient use of it. The body creates glucose from the food we eat, and uses it as fuel for the cells (specifically brain, muscle and nerve cells).
There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, is a condition where the body cannot produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which is more common, is a condition where the body either cannot produce insulin or does not use insulin effectively. You can also have prediabetes, with which you are at a higher risk for developing diabetes but do not yet have it, and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy.
Risk Factors For Diabetes
About one in ten Americans has diabetes, making it one of the most common conditions in the country, and an even larger percentage of Americans have prediabetes. People of Hispanic origin and non-Hispanic black people have higher rates of diabetes than non-Hispanic Asians and whites. Diabetes also disproportionately affects overweight/obese people, as 89% of adults diagnosed with diabetes are overweight.
Additional risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of diabetes or heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and a sedentary lifestyle. A person that falls into any of the above categories should get tested for diabetes at least every year at their regular checkup.
In general, and regardless of health, once you turn 45 you should get screened for diabetes every 2-3 years. If you are a woman that developed gestational diabetes during a pregnancy, you should also get tested about every 3 years. Finally, if you get screened for diabetes and discover you have prediabetes, you should make the lifestyle changes your doctor may recommend and get retested once a year or more, especially if you start to notice the signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
All of the following are symptoms of diabetes:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Presence of ketones in the urine
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
- Frequent infections (gum, skin, vaginal, etc)
If you experience a combination of any of these symptoms, contact your primary care provider. Your doctor cannot diagnose diabetes on symptoms alone, so they will need to run some blood tests to confirm.
Tests For Diabetes: Target Blood Sugar Readings
Based on your treatment plan, your doctor will direct you on how often to check your blood glucose.
If you are taking insulin, you will need to check and record your blood sugar levels more often than if you are not taking insulin. You can test your own blood sugar using a blood sugar meter (glucometer), which involves a shallow finger prick for a small amount of blood. You can also get a continuous glucose monitor inserted under your skin to measure your blood sugar continuously every couple of minutes. You will still need to confirm your results once a day or so with a glucometer.
Your doctor will tell you the best times of day for you to check your blood sugar. Typically, this will be just as you wake up and/or just before bed, right before a meal, two hours after a meal, and before/after exercise. If you have not eaten yet, a blood sugar range of 80 mg/dL to 130 mg/dL is a good target for most people with diabetes. Two hours after a meal, any reading less than 180 mg/dL is a good sign.
It’s worth noting that while these are good target numbers, a majority of people with diabetes will actually have their own specific ranges discussed with them by their physician — this is largely due to the fact that everyone’s diabetes is different, just as everyone’s bodies and the specific way they respond to insulin and high blood glucose is different.
The most typical test your doctor will run is called a glycated hemoglobin test, or more commonly known as, an A1C test. This test gives insight to your average blood sugar over the course of the last two to three months, and so is the best indicator of how well your treatment plan is going. More specifically, the A1C test measures the percentage of sugar attached to hemoglobin (the protein which helps red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body). Results of 6.5% or higher indicates diabetes, while any number before 5.7% is normal (5.7-6.4% shows prediabetes). Ask your doctor what your target A1C result should be.
If not A1C, you can also take random or fasting blood sugar tests that measure your blood sugar only at a specific period in time. For a fasting blood sugar test result, less than 100 mg/dL is normal, 100-125 mg/dL may indicate prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL may indicate diabetes. For a random (typically non-fasting) blood sugar test result, less than 140 mg/dL is normal, 140-199 mg/dL may indicate prediabetes, and greater than 200 mg/dL may indicate diabetes. Again, while targets and ranges exist for a reason, your physician will be the one best equipped to interpret your test results.
Treatment Options For Diabetes
If you have diabetes, your doctor will likely prescribe some form of medication. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin therapy, and some people with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin as well. There are different types of insulin, such as rapid-acting, short-acting, and long-acting, and they have different benefits depending on your needs. Insulin is injected using a fine needle and syringe, an insulin pen, or pump.
You may also be prescribed oral medication, such as metformin. Oral diabetes medications may stimulate insulin production in the pancreas or decrease production and release of glucose from the liver, among other tasks.
Whatever medication you end up taking, a diabetes diagnosis may be intimidating because of the exorbitant cost of diabetes supplies and treatments, especially insulin. Here at Banting we believe healthcare should be affordable and accessible, which is why we want to help you to save up to 80% off your typical medication costs (whether you have insurance or not), by using Canadian pharmacies and prices. Just fill your description with Banting and conveniently receive your medication in thermal-controlled packaging.
Monitoring your blood sugar as often as directed is also crucial, and you will learn over time how your body in particular reacts to stress, alcohol, certain foods, exercise, menstruation, and illness. Getting regular A1C testing will also help you see how well your treatment plan is working, and if you need to adjust your medication in any way. Finally, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercising regularly makes diabetes easier to manage, and these lifestyle choices should be a part of any treatment plan.
Potential Complications of Diabetes
The longer you have diabetes and the more poorly it is managed, the more likely you are to experience some type of complication as a result. The following are all risks that come from having diabetes:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage
- Eye damage
- Foot damage
- Skin conditions
- Hearing impairment
While the above conditions will come on gradually over the course of many years, there are other conditions that can occur suddenly, as a result of blood sugar levels that are out of control.
These conditions include:
- Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia occurs when blood glucose levels become too high. This may be a result of illness, stress, overeating/eating foods that are not diabetes-friendly, or missed medication, among other things. If you experience frequent urination, increased thirst, dry mouth, blurred vision, fatigue, and/or nausea, you may have hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia usually warrants correction with insulin, but you should always follow whatever care instructions your doctor has provided you as everyone’s care plan is different.
- Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia is the opposite of hyperglycemia, meaning it occurs when your blood sugar drops too low. Potential symptoms include sweating, shakiness, weakness, hunger, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, drowsiness, and irritability. Signs of a more serious decrease in blood sugar are heart palpitations, slurred speech, confusion, fainting, and seizures. You may experience hypoglycemia as a result of too much exercise, skipping a meal, or taking too much medication. Drinking a glass of fruit juice or taking a couple glucose tablets can help raise and restabilize your blood sugar.
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis: When there is a lack of insulin in the body, the body starts to break down muscle and fat in order to gain energy. Toxic acids called ketones are produced as a result, and diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when there is an increased level of ketones in the urine. Note that diabetic ketoacidosis is more common in people with type 1 diabetes, and that you should contact your doctor immediately if you notice ketones in your urine. Additional symptoms include loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting, fever, stomach pain, and sweet, fruity breath. You can buy test strips over the counter to measure the concentration of ketones in your urine.
- Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar Nonketotic Syndrome: Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome is potentially the most serious of the four conditions, as it is defined as having a blood sugar reading of 600 mg/dL or more. This condition is more common in people with type 2 diabetes, and often follows an illness, as it is harder for you to manage diabetes when sick. This level of blood glucose turns blood thick and syrupy. Dry mouth, extreme thirst, fever, drowsiness, confusion, vision loss, and hallucinations can all occur. Get medical help immediately if you think you have hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome.
To limit the risk of these conditions, test your blood sugar as often as directed by your doctor and follow any steps to manage your diabetes.
Normal blood sugar readings depend on the test being given, as well as the individual. People with diabetes should discuss target numbers with their doctor and predetermine how to act if blood glucose levels are outside of the target range.