Nausea, vomiting, dehydration, even coma can occur if glucose levels get too high or too low.
Hence, it's vital that people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels. The key to helping with controlling glucose levels is regular monitoring.
It's important to keep blood glucose levels at the specified range to avoid short-term effects, as well as reduce the risk of long-term complications (See "Poor glucose control leads to major problems").
Glucose monitoring also helps with tailoring treatment to ensure that levels are tightly maintained to within a specific range.
Fortunately, monitoring blood glucose is fairly straightforward and easy. Though some may be wary of needing to prick fingers several times a day, modern technology (such as spring-loaded lancet monitors) has rendered the process virtually painless.
HOW DO I TEST BLOOD SUGAR?
HOME GLUCOSE MONITORING
You prick your finger with a lancet, drip a drop of blood to a test strip and place the strip into a meter, which then gives you a reading.
There are various types of meters around, depending on function (some can calculate an average blood sugar level over a span of time, others have fancy charts and graphs) and cost.
ALTERNATE SITE TESTING METERS
This means using a part of the body other than the fingertips to obtain a drop of blood for testing - palm, upper forearm, abdomen, calf or thigh.
The results may differ from the fingertip, as levels from the fingertip are more sensitive.
CONTINUOUS GLUCOSE MONITORING SYSTEM
These monitor glucose levels in real time throughout the day. A tiny electrode is inserted under the skin (this measures glucose levels in tissue fluid). The electrode is connected to a transmitter, which sends information to a monitoring device.
The device can notify you if your glucose is hitting a high or low limit.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I TEST?
This depends on the person. Ask your attending doctor how often, and when, you should test yourself daily.
However, as a general rule, if a person is on insulin more than once a day or uses an insulin pump, blood sugar should be checked at least three times daily.
WHAT CAN AFFECT MY RESULTS?
Various factors can affect testing - hot, humid weather. If results appear a bit off regularly, recalibrate the meter and check the glucose strips.
TESTING FOR HbA1c
Measuring glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) gives an overall picture of what the average blood sugar levels have been over a period of eight to 12 weeks.
Glycated haemoglobin forms when haemoglobin joins with glucose in the blood (becoming glycated).
The higher the HbA1c level, the greater the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.
The target to aim for is less than 53 mmol/mol (less than 7 per cent).
KEEP A RECORD
It's important that you keep a record of your blood sugar results in the long term. Such records can give an indication of any problems or trends with your disease.
The records can also aid in helping with any changes in your meal and exercise plan, as well as help with adjusting medicine dose.
WORK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
It's important that you set a plan of what to do with your doctor. Monitoring blood glucose levels is one thing, preparing a plan of action is another.
Ask your doctor what you should do if glucose levels are too high or low.
If the HbA1c level for two months is not ideal, work out a plan to try and normalise blood sugar fluctuations.
Also, it's important to learn about the symptoms of high or low blood sugar so that you can take action immediately to address the problem.
Remember that many things can affect blood sugar, and these include:
- When you eat
- What you eat
- When you test
- Other medications