How to Test Your Blood Sugar at Home
Learn how to test your blood sugar levels at home and find the best methods for monitoring your blood glucose and tips for recording your results accurately.
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Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is the level of sugar found in your bloodstream. Throughout the day, blood sugar levels can dip or peak depending on what you are consuming. As blood sugar increases, the pancreases creates insulin, which cells absorb for energy and storage. It’s important to keep healthy levels of blood-sugar to avoid headaches, fatigue, irritability, weakness and more.
At The Lanby we offer a personalized approach to metabolic health, both for our diabetic patients as well as for those looking to optimize their blood sugar levels. Metabolic health is not one-size-fits-all, and we equip our members with the tools necessary to uncover the solutions that are the best fit for them. Let’s get started on building your toolkit.
Blood Sugar Levels: Everything You Need to Know
In order to understand why blood sugar levels matter, it is important to first clarify the role blood sugar plays in one’s metabolic health.
What Is Metabolic Health?
Metabolic health is determined by a few factors, blood sugar levels being one of them. Waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides are also important to evaluate, and together reflect the body’s ability to generate and process energy. Because energy is derived from glucose, we measure glucose levels as a way to assess metabolic health.
After a meal, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar), which then raises blood glucose levels. This rise causes insulin to be released from the pancreas, which pushes glucose inside the cells. Insulin moves glucose inside the cells to be used as energy. What doesn’t get used for energy gets stored as fat.
Insulin is the most significant contributor to maintaining optimal blood sugar levels. Metabolic dysfunction arises when insulin levels are perpetually out of range, and our cells become desensitized to all of that insulin—otherwise known as insulin resistance.
Why Does Metabolic Health Matter?
Poor metabolic health is associated with decreased brain function, energy, memory, mood, skin health, fertility, and increased risk for chronic disease. Currently, 88% of Americans reflect some form of metabolic dysfunction, which has been found to be the precursor to most chronic diseases.
The good news is that glucose levels can be optimized with smarter lifestyle habits. The better you can be at identifying the foods that spike your glucose, the more likely you can keep your glucose levels within an optimal range.
There are also a number of tactics you can implement to mitigate that spike when your cravings get the best of you. These strategies may involve a change to your eating patterns, workout routine, sleep hygiene, or environmental toxins, all of which have been found to impact metabolic function.
What Is Diabetes?
Learning that you have diabetes can feel like a life-altering diagnosis, but it doesn’t have to be. Despite the negative effects of diabetes, it is a highly studied and manageable disease, as long as you arm yourself with the proper knowledge and tools to better understand how the disease affects you as an individual.
Diabetes is the name given to a group of chronic diseases defined by the body’s inability to metabolize carbohydrates properly and respond to insulin. As a result, too much glucose circulates in the blood.
What Causes Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when either the liver produces too much glucose or the pancreas produces too little or no insulin at all.
- No production (typically a result of genetics) = Type 1 Diabetes
- Produces too little (primarily due to insulin resistance) = Type 2 Diabetes
What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes has several underlying causes: genetics and lifestyle are the most important ones. A combination of these factors can cause insulin resistance, when your body doesn’t use insulin as well as it should.
As a result, your body needs more insulin to help glucose enter cells. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with the added demand. Over time, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin, and blood glucose levels rise.
Testing Blood Glucose
- One of the most common glucose measurements is fasting plasma glucose (FPG) or fasting blood glucose (FBG), and as labeled, is measured after having not consumed any calories for at least 8 hours. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), people can be classified into three categories depending on their fasting plasma glucose levels: normal, prediabetes, and diabetes. A fasting blood sugar level of 99 mg/dL or lower is normal, 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates you have prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher indicates you have diabetes.
- Post-meal glucose levels are also important. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), nondiabetic people should have a glucose level of no higher than 140 mg/dl after meals, and glucose should return to pre-meal levels within 2-3 hours.
Your doctor will likely test your fasting blood glucose levels to measure your metabolic health and screen for prediabetes during a standard yearly check-up.
However, at-home monitoring, which can be achieved using an over-the-counter finger-prick test or a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), is equally important to assessing overall metabolic health.
When Should You Test Your Blood Sugar Levels?
Standard tests to assess glucose levels include a fasting glucose test, a three-month-average glucose levels test (hemoglobin a1c), and an oral glucose tolerance test.
While important to capture, these data points are momentary snapshots. When looking to dive deeper to assess the root cause of metabolic dysfunction, it is important to also evaluate an individual’s dynamic trends over time.
CGMs are by definition continuous and can be used to assess how glucose levels fluctuate as a result of other lifestyle factors (i.e. exercise, sleep, pattern of eating, post-meal walks, etc.).
With the help of a CGM, we can monitor our members over a 24-hour period and help them understand their unique metabolic health. We are able to customize their nutrient intake and provide solutions that empower them to reach optimal ranges.
Many of our nondiabetic members also opt in to wearing a CGM to proactively track their glucose levels and identify opportunities to optimize. Any patient who cares to monitor their glucose levels should check their levels at the same time.
If you are a healthy patient, you should monitor your blood sugar levels and keep an eye out for any symptoms (dizziness, fatigue, headaches) that may be abnormal to how you typically feel. If symptoms begin, consult with your physician to ensure everything is okay.
If you have diabetes, the type of diabetes you have will determine when and how often you must test your blood sugar:
- For patients with type 1 diabetes, we recommend checking in with your doctor to determine what the right plan is for you, how many times a day you should test, and when those tests should occur.
- The amount a patient with type 2 diabetes should test depends on the type of treatment they are receiving and should consult their physician for more tailored guidance.
Best Ways to Test Your Blood Sugar
Traditional Home Glucose Monitoring
An at-home blood glucose monitor is a device that checks blood glucose levels from a single blood sample. It’s up to you how often you do this, but most people with diabetes check their glucose levels three to four times a day with this type of blood glucose monitoring system.
The blood glucose test requires a finger prick using a lancet (a very small needle). There’s no limit to how often you can use it, but it requires a fresh drop of blood and a fresh test strip every time.
You’ll get blood glucose readings within seconds, so you can know if your glucose is low, high, or within range. Most devices have options to store results over time, making it easy to see patterns and share them with your provider.
Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (CGM)
Continuous Glucose Monitors are blood sugar monitors that you attach to yourself and wear for up to 14 days. The CGM device has three parts:
- A sensor your wear on the stomach or upper arm
- A transmitter to communicate blood sugar readings
- A receiver (smartphone, insulin pump, or other handheld device).
This device will monitor your glucose level and the receiver alerts you when your levels are out of your target range.
CGMs read your glucose levels every few minutes, 24 hours a day. This allows the CGM to create data to give you a better understanding of:
- Glucose patterns (blood sugar dips and spikes)
- Medication effectiveness
- Sensitivity to exercise
- Response to foods.
They provide a much more accurate picture of how your blood sugar levels change throughout the day. While you can check levels yourself with a finger-stick test, the CGM allows you to check during times where you wouldn’t otherwise, such as during exercise or sleep.
Another benefit of the CGM is that you can share real-time and data with other people. This allows you to share information with a family member or loved one who can receive alerts if something is wrong.
Affordability and access are common challenges people face; and although CGMs are more expensive than glucometers, out-of-pocket costs vary, so we suggest working with your insurance company to determine pricing.
Glucose in your blood bonds to hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. As your blood glucose levels increase, more of your hemoglobin will be covered with glucose. Glucose can stick to hemoglobin for as long as the red blood cells are alive, which is about three months. The HbA1C test measures the percentage of your red blood cells that have glucose-coated hemoglobin to determine your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months.
- For non-diabetics, normal range is considered 4.1-5.6%, but optimal is <5.4%.
- Higher levels can indicate prediabetes (5.7-6.4%) or diabetes (6.5%+).
Difference between Fasting Glucose and Post-meal Testing
Fasting Glucose is the measurement of blood sugar over a period of time without eating. This fast can last between 8 to 10 hours prior to testing. This is a noninvasive way to diagnose whether someone has diabetes, prediabetes, or gestational diabetes. During this time no food should be consumed in order to show a proper blood sugar level reading.
Post-meal testing is done after you eat a meal, to determine how your body reacts to sugars and starches in those foods. When your stomach digests the food, blood sugar levels increase rapidly.
Recording Your Results for Your Blood Glucose Monitoring
Now that the blood glucose test has been completed, you must monitor the test results following these steps:
- Review the digital screen on the test meter.
- Compare the displayed number with your blood sugar guidelines.
- Consult your instruction manual if an error displays on the screen.
- If you see an altered result, contact your healthcare provider, dietician or health coach. If you are a Lanby member, work with your Wellness Advisor on a treatment plan to optimize these levels week by week by making slight adjustments to your routine and eating habits
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes or have had it for years, we empathize with the intimidation it can bring. Daily fingertip pricks or wearing a continuous monitoring device can feel scary, but whatever your needs are, The Lanby Care Team is here to help you through it and put your mind at ease. Book a Consult Call if you’re interested in learning more.
If you're curious to learn more about The Lanby, book a free consult call and we'll chat about how The Lanby can be your personalized long term health and wellness partner.
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