Most people have daily rituals that help them define tasks to be accomplished. My day usually starts off before dawn by feeding my beagle her morning ration and then brewing a small pot of coffee. The next step is checking my blood glucose so that just as the coffee is brewed, I also know how my fasting blood sugar measures up to my expectations. Usually, the number on the meter is quite acceptable - and assures me that my body is working properly on the fuel (food) I put in it. I have Type 2 diabetes and self-testing is one way I keep track of this increasingly common metabolic disease.
Glucose is a type of sugar that is found in your blood and self-testing is a big part of caring for your diabetes. A tiny drop of blood applied to the glucometer test strip tells you how much glucose is in your blood at that point in time. Since many things affect your blood sugar levels each day, self-testing lets you know if your meal plan, medication and exercise are working to keep your blood sugar in control.
Occasionally, I am surprised by a high reading - like the morning after my birthday when my meter indicated that I'd eaten far too much celebratory cake and ice cream. I didn't skip breakfast that day but instead focused on choosing a smaller meal that had more protein and fewer carbohydrates. Self-testing a few times over a given day gives me an idea of how well my metabolism is working and allows me to fine-tune my menu choices and serving sizes.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that anyone with diabetes do blood sugar self-tests. Because diabetes changes the way your body controls blood sugar levels, testing helps you keep your blood sugar as close to normal as you can. Research shows that good control of blood sugar can lower your risk of eye disease, kidney disease and nerve damage that can develop due to diabetes. Self-testing lets you learn how diabetes makes your body react to daily events. You can answer questions like, "what happens to my blood sugar during times of stress or when I am sick?" or "what happens to my blood sugar when I exercise?" Self-testing can help you decide how to take better care of yourself.
Self-testing gives you the information you need to avoid too many high or low blood sugar levels day to day. Your healthcare team will help you decide how often to test and will also help you decide when to test. Testing at different times is a good idea. Here are some useful times to choose from:*Before breakfast - this is called fasting blood sugar. Fasting means you have not had any food in 8 hours or more.*1-2 hours after breakfast - this is called the postprandial blood sugar. "Prandial" refers to any meal - breakfast, lunch, supper or snack, so postprandial means measurements taken AFTER a meal. "Pre-prandial" therefore, means before a meal.*Before lunch*1-2 hours after lunch*Before supper*1-2 hours after supper*Before bedtime*At 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., if you take insulinIt's a good idea to do extra tests when there are changes in your treatment plan or you start a new medication for diabetes. You should test if you think your blood sugar might be too low or high and when you are sick.
If you have type 2 diabetes or have a family member with diabetes, knowing how to manage it is very important because diabetes has no cure. As a Penn State Extension educator and registered dietitian (RD), I'm teaching a series of diabetes education classes this fall called "Dining with Diabetes" in four NW PA counties and chances are good that one will be available in or near your community. If you'd like to understand your own (or someone else's) diabetes and begin to manage it instead of it managing you, call me at 814.755.3544 or email me at NLY1@PSU.EDU to find out where the next class will be. Understanding what blood tests mean and using diet and physical activity to control blood sugar levels allows the person with diabetes to deal with it - and get on with living.