Blood Glucose Tests: What You Should Know

When you have diabetes, you can use a blood sugar test to check your blood sugar or blood sugar level.

If you are taking insulin, you can use a blood sugar tester or glucose meter several times a day. If you are taking medication without insulin, you may only need an A1c test, which is done at your doctor’s office every 3 to 6 months. An A1c test is a blood test that shows your doctor your 3-month average blood sugar level.

Blood sugar tests as you get older

As you get older, your doctor may change the way you monitor your blood sugar.

“The targets your doctor wants you to aim for may change based on your age or other health factors,” says Patrice Conrad, senior diabetes specialist at Priority Health in Grand Rapids, MI.

“Older patients are at a higher risk of hypoglycemia with certain medications, such as insulin and sulfonylureas,” says Jocelyne Karam, MD, director of the division of endocrinology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.

You may also be at a higher risk of low blood sugar if you have certain conditions, such as kidney, liver, or heart problems, or if your appetite decreases.

To avoid low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, your doctor will ask you to closely monitor your levels with a blood sugar test.

What do blood sugar tests do

Your blood sugar rises and falls throughout the day. They may increase after eating, then drop after a long time without eating.

Your doctor will give you a target range for your blood sugar. If it is too low, you may have problems functioning and thinking well. If they go too high, it can cause problems for your body over time.

By using a blood glucose meter, you can check your levels and make adjustments to keep them within a healthy range.

Types of blood sugar tests

There are different types of blood sugar tests.

Finger prick blood glucose test. With this test, you prick your finger with a lancet to get a small drop of blood. You put the blood on a strip, and then the meter tells you your blood sugar level at that time.

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Continuous blood glucose monitoring device (CGM). With a CGM test, you put a sticker-like patch, or glucose sensor, on your skin. It gives you a reading on your smartphone or another device like an insulin pump. “It can measure and transmit glucose readings every 5 minutes, 24 hours a day,” says Karam. You can replace the sensor every 7-14 days.

“The advantage of CGM is that you can see your blood sugar at any time, best of all, without itching,” says Conrad, a registered nurse. A CGM is useful if you have multiple insulin injections during the day or if your levels vary a lot.

How to choose the right test for you

Perhaps the best test is the one that is easiest to use.

“There are talking meters for people who may not be able to see well, and some may have larger numbers for those with limited vision,” says Conrad. Some are backlit for easy reading. Others store your readings so that you can share them with your doctor by uploading them.

“Older patients who have difficulty sticking their fingers together, but still need frequent glucose readings, may benefit from glucose sensors,” says Karam. But you need technical skills to use a CGM device, so they may not be suitable for everyone.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which test is best for you.

When to check your blood sugar

Your doctor will tell you how often to test your blood sugar and whether you need to make any changes as you get older.

“If you’re taking insulin, they’ll often want you to check before meals and bedtime,” says Conrad. “Whether they’ve been high or low, they’ll want at least that many tests, if not more.”

If your numbers are at or near your goal most of the time and you don’t take insulin with meals, your doctor may recommend less frequent testing.

“Patients with type 2 diabetes treated with diet alone, or drugs that do not cause hypoglycemia, may only need to check with a finger a few times a week,” says Karam.

If you have any changes in medications, medical conditions, or appetite, your doctor may recommend that you adjust your testing schedule to avoid hypoglycemia.

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Keep your numbers on target as you get older

There are steps you can take to make sure your blood sugar stays within a healthy target range. “A lot of things affect your blood sugar. Some you control, some you don’t, ”says Conrad.

Here’s what you can do to keep your levels on track.

  • Eat healthy most of the time.
  • Be as active as possible.
  • Manage your stress as best you can.
  • Check your blood sugar as often as your doctor recommends.
  • Take your medicine on time, every time.

Sources

SOURCES:

Patrice Conrad, registered nurse; Senior Diabetes Specialist, Priority Health, Grand Rapids, MI.

Jocelyne Karam, MD, director, Division of Endocrinology, Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY.

American Diabetes Association: “The Big Picture: Checking Your Blood Glucose”.

Health and Aging: “Diabetes Care and Treatment”, “Diabetes Unique to the Elderly”.

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Diabetes: What You Need To Know As You Get Older.”


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