Managing Diabetes: Your Guide to Blood Sugar Monitoring in the UK
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
Monitoring blood sugar levels is a way to understand your diabetes and how different foods or lifestyle choices affect it. While it could be beneficial for everyone to know how their blood glucose levels change based on their habits, it's an especially important task for the almost five million people in the UK currently living with this condition.
There are several ways to effectively monitor blood sugar, which this article will present in full. Learn about the methods below, and see which is most convenient.
Diabetes management doesn't only involve medications to maintain blood glucose levels. Many patients must also make significant changes to their daily lifestyle to support their treatment.
Regular blood sugar testing can help you understand how your body responds to these changes and whether you need additional help.
One of the first changes you'll need to make concerns diet, particularly the amount of carbohydrates you consume. Monitoring your blood sugar levels before and after meals helps you adjust your diet.
According to the NHS, exercising can also help reduce blood sugar spikes after meals, but not all physical activities are recommended for people with diabetes. For example, you should avoid high-intensity workouts, especially if you have a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Regular testing, especially in the beginning, can reveal if the exercise plan is suitable for your condition.
With better diabetes management also comes the reduced risk of complications.
High blood sugar levels can lead to diabetic neuropathy, which causes tingling, pain, or numbness in the feet. This condition is called diabetic foot, and lack of care could cause the development of a foot ulcer.
Another common complication is the development of periodontal gum disease. It's treatable, but improper management can cause constantly inflamed gums or tooth loss.
People with diabetes may get anxious about their blood sugar levels, especially when unaware of them. Those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and ineffective disease management plays a crucial role in this.
When you monitor your blood sugar, it's easier to have an idea of the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
Monitoring your levels frequently can also help your doctor decide if your treatment should change. In fact, they may even ask you to monitor your blood glucose more often in certain cases:
When your blood sugar remains at the appropriate level, you may easily get motivated to keep practicing healthy habits since you can monitor the results of all your efforts.
This can improve your quality of life and make living with diabetes easier.
Here are the main ways to monitor your blood sugar:
The blood glucose meter is the most common option for monitoring blood sugar in the UK.
To use it, you need to prick your finger with a small lancet needle and place the drop of blood against the test strip in the glucose meter to check the result. For the best results, use this method several times a day, especially if you are insulin-dependent or have a stricter treatment.
Next to the glucometer, a continuous glucose monitor is also a common method for checking blood sugar. This device is also known as a flash glucose monitor, and it provides real-time glucose level readings every few minutes.
You need to insert a sensor under the skin, usually in the abdomen, to measure the intestinal glucose level and send data to a monitor or phone app. If your blood sugar becomes too low or high, an alarm beeps.
Urine tests can be part of your regular checks. The laboratory or clinic may test for the presence of ketones and glucose.
These tests can be used both at home and at the doctor's, though they are not as popular for at-home use since glucometers and CGMs are generally seen as more convenient.
HbA1c is a person's average blood glucose level for the last three months. For people with diabetes, the ideal HbA1c level is 40 mmol/mol or lower. However, if you are at risk of diabetes, your target HbA1c should be below 42 mmol/mol.
Though it's commonly used to diagnose the condition, your doctor may also perform it during your regular check-ups to confirm the treatment plan is suitable for you or adjust it if needed.
Some tips to help successfully monitor your blood glucose levels are:
How often you should check your blood glucose level depends on the type of diabetes you have and your lifestyle factors.
Your doctor may advise testing your blood sugar at least 4 to 10 times daily. If you have type 1 diabetes, you may need to perform tests at the following times:
Many patients with type 1 diabetes opt for continuous glucose monitoring because they need more frequent daily testing. These devices prevent patients from pricking their fingers several times a day and can conveniently alert them if their blood sugar levels are too high or too low.
If you have type 2 diabetes and take insulin, your doctor may advise performing checks several times daily, depending on the insulin dose. If you don't take insulin, your testing frequency will likely be reduced, but you should still take your levels at least once daily.
Low blood sugar is also called hypoglycemia, and it occurs when a person's blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL or 4 mmol/l. When one's low blood glucose is untreated, it could lead to other health problems.
Some of the common symptoms of low blood glucose levels are:
As low blood sugar worsens, the following symptoms may become noticeable:
For someone with diabetes, one of the major causes of hypoglycemia is taking insulin. Too much insulin may cause blood glucose levels to drop significantly. It can also occur when you eat less than your typical meal size after taking a diabetes medication.
Other causes of hypoglycemia can include medications, excessive alcohol, sickness, long-term starvation, or hormone deficiencies.
If you experience some symptoms of hypoglycemia, consider taking the following steps:
If your blood sugar level exceeds your intended targets, you may experience symptoms of hyperglycemia and need medical treatment.
The different symptoms of high blood sugar are:
Several factors contribute to hyperglycemia, including:
When you observe symptoms of hyperglycemia, consider:
Exercising is a great way to maintain the appropriate glucose levels, especially with hyperglycemia. However, if you're on a medication that tends to reduce insulin, speak to your doctor to know if exercising is a good idea.
You can work with a nutritionist to create the best meal plans for managing carbohydrate intake. The following diet plans may be helpful:
You should only change your treatment plan based on your doctor's advice. Your primary healthcare provider may reevaluate your treatment plan based on your health history and experience with hyperglycemia. They could change the type, timing, and amount of your medication.
While the above methods can work to regulate slightly higher blood sugar levels, if you're experiencing severe symptoms of hyperglycemia, you should see your primary physician as soon as possible.
You should take an extra dose of rapid-acting insulin to regulate your levels and drink carb-free beverages, which can help lessen your symptoms. But, even if the crisis clears, you should seek medical attention regardless.
Blood sugar monitoring may be scary to many, mainly because they must always be aware of their health status. But, staying informed is best because it will save you from other complications relating to high or low blood glucose levels.
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