Keeping track of your blood sugar levels is an important part of managing your diabetes. These blood glucose readings help you make the best choices about meals and snacks, physical activity and taking/timing medications.
“I tell clients it’s their science experiment,” says diabetes educator Karen McDermaid. “How do [their level of] exercise, what they’re eating and what medications they’re on affect their blood sugar?” A good record of your blood glucose levels also helps your healthcare professional or diabetes educator decide whether your medication or insulin may need to be adjusted.
How often should you check your blood sugar? That depends on a few factors, including whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and whether or not you’re using insulin. But anyone with diabetes will have more control over their disease if they’ve got a good handle on their sugar levels.
Track Your Blood Sugar Levels: What to Write
Tracking your blood glucose means more than just jotting down a number from time to time. You can also include the time of day, what you ate, whether you exercised, and what medication you took. All of these details provide an overall picture of your health.
Some people like writing in a logbook. You can download logbook pages free of charge from many websites. Prefer to go paperless? Many blood glucose monitors will store not only your glucose readings and the date and time, but additional information about food and activity level, with the option to transfer all this data to your computer.
The Best Way to Test Your Blood Sugar
A blood glucose monitor is the tried-and-true method for keeping track of your levels. And today’s models make it easier, faster and less painful to test your blood throughout the day.
Four times a year you should also have an A1C test, which is done at a lab and measures how much glucose your red blood cells have been exposed to over the past three months. This provides a big-picture look at your glucose levels, not just a day-to-day one.
A continuous blood glucose (CBG) system uses a tiny sensor implanted under the skin. The sensor, which is used for a few days before being removed, detects the glucose levels in the body and transmits this information to a wireless monitor. With a CBG system you can track the real-time ups and downs of your blood glucose levels, so it helps you know what’s happening right down to the minute. Research shows that adults with type 1 diabetes who use CGB have better control over their glucose levels. But CBG technology isn’t yet accurate enough to completely replace a regular glucose meter, so both devices should be used together.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on a tattoo made of special ink that could one day help people track their blood sugar levels. The ink contains fluorescent nanoparticles that react to glucose by lighting up. A small monitor held over the skin like a wristwatch would detect the light changes and display the person’s current glucose level.
What if you want to “track” your blood glucose levels simply by paying attention to the way you feel? Not a great idea. You can have high blood glucose and not realize it. In fact, thousands of Americans have diabetes right now and don’t know it, because they feel just fine. Of course, pay attention to symptoms of high blood sugar like extreme thirst or frequent bathroom breaks, and signs of low blood sugar, like irritability and weakness. But make sure you’re taking tests as well.
How to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Blood Sugar Tracking
Should you consider changes to your lifestyle, diet, or medication? That’s where your careful records come in handy. If you’ve been tracking your sugar levels, you’ll start to see trends: You’ll notice the number comes down when you have your morning walk, or maybe it goes up when you have too many rice-heavy sushi rolls. “It allows you to have those ‘a-ha’ moments,” McDermaid says.
Web exclusive June 2011 Best Health magazine