Your blood sugar levels can best be described as the amount of glucose (or sugar) that is present in the blood. It is often referred to as the plasma glucose level and is typically expressed in millimoles per litre (mmol/l). You will find that normal blood sugar levels stay within an extremely narrow limit throughout the day and should be 4-8 mmol/l. However, you will usually find that your blood sugar levels are far higher after you have eaten a meal and a lot lower first thing in the morning. For people who suffer with diabetes their blood sugar level will normally move outside these limits until they are treated. However, even if you have good control over your diabetes, you may occasionally find that your blood sugar level will vary from the normal range.
High blood sugar levels over a period of years can lead to damage of the small blood vessels. This, unfortunately, can increase the risk of developing certain complications that are associated with late stage diabetes. These can include nephropathy or kidney disease, retinopathy or eye disease, neuropathy or nerve disease and certain cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, heart failure, hypertension and stroke. You may even find additional problems caused by poor circulation and in some of the worst cases this may cause diseases such as gangrene. If you are able to keep your blood sugar level stable, you should be able to avoid, or dramatically reduce, these risks and complications. You will typically find that these complications may start to appear after 10 to 15 years for somebody suffering from type I diabetes and usually 10 years after diagnosis of type II diabetes.
In order to measure your blood sugar level you can use a home blood glucose level testing kit. These kits will include a measuring device and a strip. You simply need to put a small amount of blood on the strip and then place the strip directly into the device. The device will then display your blood glucose level in under a minute. Your blood sample is typically taken by putting your finger on a sharp lancet that can usually be found somewhere on the testing kit. Ideally you are looking to have a blood sugar level of 4-7 mmol/l before you have eaten, and less than 10 mmol/l within 90 minutes of eating a meal. Your aim should be to have a blood sugar level of 8 mmol/l prior to going to bed.
How often you measure your blood sugar levels will very much depend on your own individual circumstances. If you are suffering with type I diabetes it is recommended that you measure your blood sugar levels on a daily basis prior to meals. Occasionally you may find that you only need to take one or two tests, whereas other days you may need as many as four or five. If you have type II diabetes and you are treating this within insulin, this exact schedule should also be followed. However, if your diabetes is being specifically treated via a special diet or tablets, then you really only need to test your blood sugar levels once or twice a week. Your aim is to have a blood sugar level of between 7-10 mmol/l at bedtimes. However, if you find that your blood sugar level is either very high or very low at bedtime, this maybe an indication that you need to adjust either your insulin dose or food intake.
There is also a specific test known as the HbA1c test. This is typically used to measure your average blood sugar level over a prolonged period of time, usually 6 to 8 weeks. HbA1c is actually a specific compound that is produced by the chemical reaction that occurs between haemoglobin and glucose in the blood. The higher your blood sugar levels are the more HbA1c produced. If you suffer from consistently high blood sugar levels, this will actually cause the levels of HbA1c to rise. Therefore this is an extremely important measurement in the control of diabetes.
Your blood sugar level should normally be measured whenever you feel unwell or if you actually believe that your blood glucose is either too high or too low. People with type I diabetes have often produced a blood sugar level in excess of 20 mmol/l, and should therefore use a urine strip to check for the possibility of ketones. There are also specific blood sugar meters that are able to check your blood for ketones. If you find that ketones are present in either your blood or urine, this is typically a warning sign of diabetic acidosis and it is advisable that you consult with your doctor immediately. Should you wish to purchase a home testing kit or a blood glucose meter you can discuss this with your doctor, a pharmacist or a clinic nurse.