How much do you know about your glucose levels? For many people, this may be little, but for diabetics, it can be a crucial part of monitoring and managing diabetes.
According to figures from Diabetes UK, over 3.2 million people in the UK are diagnosed as having diabetes. However, it could be affecting many more people, as estimates from Diabetes UK suggest that up to 850,000 people are diabetic, but yet to be diagnosed.
Glucose is a form of sugar that provides energy to the cells in your body and is normally used as fuel to give you energy. But if you have diabetes, the glucose is unable to properly enter the cells and be used, so instead the levels of glucose in your blood tend to be high.
In fact, if you have undiagnosed diabetes, your blood sugar levels may well be rising gradually until the symptoms of the disease become obvious. It’s important for anyone with diabetes to get blood sugar levels under control, as it can cause both short and long term problems, including damage to your eyes, blood vessels and heart.
‘The most common symptoms of high glucose are passing urine more often, feeling thirsty, tiredness, blurred vision and weight loss. You may also experience poor wound healing and have regular episodes of thrush or genital itching,’ explains GP, Dr Emmajane Down.
How to take your glucose measurements
Monitoring your own levels of blood glucose can play a useful and practical way of helping you manage and understand your diabetes. It can help you learn to spot possible signs of hypoglycaemia (abnormally low levels of blood sugar) or hyperglycaemia (excessively high levels of blood sugar), both of which can be serious.
Not all diabetes patients need to do home testing, but if you are encouraged to test at home, it’s a quick and easy process. ‘Glucose levels are monitored at home by dabbing a small amount of blood onto a little hand-held monitor,’ explains Dr Down. ‘It only takes a few seconds.’
Your blood is obtained by a finger pricking device, with which you prick the side of your finger.
In addition to any home testing, your overall blood sugar control should be monitored by your doctor, who’ll carry out an HbA1C blood test every few months.
‘This provides insight into how your diabetes is being controlled on a long term basis,’ explains a clinical advisor from Diabetes UK. The test highlights your blood glucose levels for the last two or three months and shows the amount of glucose being carried around your body by red blood cells.
What are the ideal glucose levels?
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggest that, on average, the ideal blood glucose targets are:
- 3.5 – 5.5 mmol/mol before eating a meal
- less than 8 mmol/mol, two hours after eating a meal
However, these targets ‘do vary depending on the individual, their age and their type of diabetes,’ advises Dr Down, so it’s important to take note of the advice given to you by your medical practitioner.
In terms of the HbA1C results from tests your doctor does, the target level for most adults with diabetes is below 48 mmol/mol. ‘When an HbA1C result is below 48 mmol/mol, research suggests this can reduce the risk of an individual developing diabetic-related complications, such as heart disease, eye disease, nerve damage or kidney disease,’ comments Diabetes UK’s clinical advisor.
How to lower and manage your glucose levels
‘If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you should be given lots of information about what to do if your glucose level is too high or too low,’ explains Dr Down. “This varies depending on if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.’
However, on a long term basis, paying attention to your diet and exercise, as well as any medication you require, can help you learn to manage the disease.
‘In order to ensure glucose levels in the blood remain constant and controlled, diabetic patients need to balance the amount of food, the amount the exercise and the amount of insulin they take.’
If you’re concerned about diabetes or pre-diabetes, speak to your GP, advises Dr Down. ‘If you have a recently diagnosed family member or have developed any possible early symptoms of diabetes, your doctor can do a simple blood test to rule out or confirm the diagnosis.’