Diabetes Network News | Published February 16, 2012 | Written by Heather Harpster, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

I have diabetes. Why should I monitor my blood sugar?

Managing your diabetes is vital to help reduce the risk of health related complications like nerve damage, kidney disease and heart disease. Monitoring your blood sugar (or blood glucose) is an important tool that can help you better manage your diabetes. There are two different ways to measure your blood sugar - through self testing or a hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) test.

To self-monitor your blood sugar, you will need to use an electronic device called a glucose meter (or glucometer). Self-monitoring your blood sugar allows you to know your blood sugar level at any given time and can help you and your healthcare team identify how successful your diabetes care plan is working. It can help you:

  • Acknowledge when blood sugar levels are dangerously high or low
  • Determine the effect your diabetes medications have on your blood sugar levels
  • Understand how diet and exercise affect your blood sugar
  • Recognize how certain factors, like stress or illness, can influence your blood sugar levels

Your physician will advise you on how often and when you should check your blood sugar level and will likely base the frequency of testing on the type of diabetes you have and your treatment plan. It is also important to discuss with him/her what your ideal blood sugar target range should be. The American Diabetes Association suggests a blood sugar goal of 70-130mg/dl before meals and less than 180mg/dl 2hrs after meals; however, these goals should be individualized based on a few factors, including duration of diabetes, type and severity of diabetes, age, overall health status, presence of diabetes complications and pregnancy status. To help you track your blood sugar levels, you can download a free form from the American Diabetes Association, or use a mobile device application that allows you to log the information.

The HbA1c is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months. This test reflects the amount of sugar that "sticks" to the protein (hemoglobin) and is measured as a percentage. The higher your blood sugars have been, the higher your HbA1c will be. The HbA1c test can give you valuable information about your overall blood sugar control. No other test gives you this same big picture. Typically, you need your HbA1c tested at least twice a year, but you may need it tested more often if you are working to improve your blood sugars or are having problems. It is important to discuss with your physician what your ideal HbA1c target range should be. The American Diabetes Association suggests a HbA1c goal of less than 7%; however, this goal should also be individualized.

Measuring your HbA1c does not mean that you can stop checking your blood sugars at home. The results you get from both tests provide valuable information that can help you and your health care team make appropriate adjustments to your medicine, diet and exercise routine.

To help you monitor your bloods sugar levels and better manage your diabetes, call 814.231.7095 to learn more about the many service offerings Mount Nittany's diabetes care team provides, including self-management education classes and monthly support groups.