How to track your blood sugar levels

Learn to stay on top of your blood glucose levels with these expert tips on watching your numbers

By Lisa Bendall

How to track your blood sugar levels

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 medications.

"I tell clients it’s their science experiment," says Karen McDermaid, a diabetes educator in Moosomin, Sask. "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 in writing

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 will fit together like puzzle pieces to get an overall picture of how your health is doing.

How you decide to record this information will depend on you. If you can settle on a system that you find easy, then you’re more likely to keep better track of your blood glucose. 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

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 can be a helpful tracking method because it 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 Canadians have diabetes right now and don’t know it, because they feel just fine. Of course, you should pay attention to symptoms of high blood sugar like extreme thirst or frequent bathroom breaks, and signs you might have low blood sugar, like irritability and weakness. But make sure you’re taking tests as well.

Plan what comes next

You’ve been tracking your blood glucose levels over time. Now what? Talk to your healthcare provider or diabetes educator about what this information means. Should changes be made to your lifestyle, diet or medication? That’s where your careful records come in handy. "Testing just for the sake of seeing a number isn’t of value. People need to know what those numbers means and what they can do about them," says McDermaid.

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 goes up when you indulge in a doughnut. "It allows you to have those ‘a-ha’ moments," McDermaid says. And that’s how keeping track of your blood glucose levels keeps you in the driver’s seat.

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Web exclusive: June 2011

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