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What Testing Your Blood Sugar Can Tell You

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Keep your diabetes management on track by checking your numbers at new times

By Marijke Vroomen Durning

Testing your blood glucose levels may seem like just one extra chore to include in your day—and at times, it may be a painful addition. But the annoyance (and pain), are worth it when you’re managing diabetes. Blood glucose testing is the best way to ensure that your lifestyle and medications are working effectively to help keep you as healthy as possible.

People with type 1 diabetes often end up testing their blood sugar throughout the day — sometimes as many as 4 to 8 times a day — or more. If you have type 2 diabetes, however, you may be testing your glucose levels only once or twice a day, or even less frequently. How often you test should be discussed with your healthcare provider. But keep in mind that checking your blood glucose only once a day gives you a snapshot of how you are just at that specific time. In some cases, it may help to test more often — to get an overall picture of how well you’re doing and to help pinpoint where potential trouble areas (or time frames) may lie.

Here are some scenarios where additional testing might help:

If you routinely check your blood glucose in the morning only

Testing at another time of day can help you see if there are any fluctuations in your levels, and can help you understand your blood sugar variations as you move through a normal day.

If your morning blood glucose levels are consistently high

If your test results each morning are high, you may be suffering from the effects of something known as the “dawn phenomenon.” The dawn phenomenon occurs when your body releases a burst of hormones that counteract insulin and may result in higher-than-normal blood sugar readings in the early morning hours. If you notice this pattern, talk with your healthcare provider about how to lower those morning readings. He or she may suggest a change in your medication schedule, eating dinner earlier, or other techniques to help combat these effects.

You might also consider additional testing before meals. “If the fasting sugar begins to creep up, you should perhaps consider measuring sugars before meals, as well,” says Alan J. Garber, MD, PhD, a professor of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, TX.

If you have taken up a new exercise regimen or adjusted your diet

Testing your blood glucose levels before and after any major lifestyle changes, including changes to your eating pattern or increases in exercise, can help you determine how your body is adapting. If you’re exercising more vigorously than before, your blood glucose levels may drop. If you notice these changes, you may need to speak with your healthcare provider for tips on how to better manage your numbers in this new routine.

If you’re taking oral medications or insulin

Some oral diabetes medications can make you more prone to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, says Garber. If your type 2 diabetes management includes insulin, you should also be aware that hypoglycemia is a potential side effect. “If you're taking either [oral medications or insulin], you need to watch out for low blood sugars, which have symptoms such as headaches, palpitations, difficulty concentrating, and nausea.”

Keep track of your numbers

It’s important to keep track of your readings, especially if you’re testing at new times or after certain events.

Most blood glucose monitors have memory functions, which save previous readings for some time, but it’s still a good idea to record your numbers somewhere else, such as in a blood glucose tracking app like Sugar Sense (iOS or Android). Choose a few days in a week and decide on specific times you’ll test your blood each day. Record the time of day and the test results.

If your blood levels stay constant, congratulations, you’re managing your diabetes well. But, if you see significant changes over the course of the testing period, talk with your healthcare provider about the findings. Be sure to have the results of your tests on hand for the appointment.

 

Published June 27, 2017.

 

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has written articles for numerous healthcare sites and is the author of Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs & How to Take Them Safely.

 

Creatas Images/Creatas/Thinkstock
Reviewed by Shira Goldenholz, MD, MPH, on June 23, 2017.
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