Monitoring blood sugar is key to balancing type 1 diabetes. Here's how to do it.
The first few years after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I absolutely hated checking my blood sugar. I’d be out with my friends or in class, and I’d have to pull out this old-school looking black case, take out a test strip, insert it into a product that looked like it was made in the ’80s, poke my finger to get some blood, and put the blood on a tiny strip…all to get a result I didn’t want to see.
It drove me to check less and less — until eventually, I was only checking once or twice a day.
The problem? Our blood sugar is constantly changing with life, and so only having this information only once or twice a day was just not enough. (It eventually led me to missing a really high blood sugar for 2 straight days during finals and needing to get hospitalized.)
Eventually, I learned the hard way that knowing my blood sugar level took away a bunch of stress and fear. Rather than worrying if I was going to go low or finding out too late that I had a high blood sugar, I could just get the information I needed and fix it before anything bad happened.
No…I still don’t love monitoring my blood sugar — I’d happily hand the job back to my pancreas if I could. But it’s also taught me a lot — including discipline and how my body works — so in the end, I’d say it’s all been worth it.
Here’s what monitoring blood sugar is all about.
Fun Fact: “Blood Sugar” and “Blood Glucose” are two different ways to say the same thing: how much sugar is in your blood. Glucose comes from the Greek word for “sweet.” It’s a type of sugar you get from foods you eat, and your body uses it for energy.
When you live with diabetes, balancing blood sugar is the aim of the game.
The key is getting just the right amount of sugar — not too high, and not too low.
In the short-term, keeping a balanced blood sugar keeps you feeling good and avoiding interruptions to your day. Long-term, it keeps you healthy.
Blood sugar is exactly what it sounds like — how much sugar is in your blood. Balancing blood sugar is maintaining that “just right amount of sugar” level.
For people without diabetes, this process is auto-magic:
This process works over and over throughout the day to keep blood sugar balanced.
But when you’re diagnosed with diabetes, this process stops working. For people with type 1 diabetes, the body stops making insulin and glucagon like it should, leaving you to play the role your body used to do for you.
Here’s what you’ll need to do.
When you monitor your blood sugar, you’re checking how much sugar you have in your blood.
There are 2 ways to do this:
Your body will give you signs when your blood sugar is low or high:
Because everyone will feel their lows and highs slightly differently, it’s a good idea to figure out how you personally feel for each so you quickly detect when your blood sugar is low or high and take the right steps to bring it back in range.
The best way to get the exact info you need is to manually check your blood sugar level. There are two types of devices that provide glucose information:
For both methods, you’ll see a number that represents how much sugar is in your blood.
While both approaches are good, the best approach is a combination of sensing how you feel and checking your blood sugar with a device. It can be easy to miss or confuse signs of a low or high blood sugar and doing both will help you avoid emergency situations.
The goal or target range for your blood sugar is generally 70–150 mg/dL. Below this range is a low blood sugar and above this range is a high blood sugar.
Fun Fact: mg/dL is the standard glucose measurement in the US, France, Japan, Israel, and India. mmol/l are used in Canada, Australia and China. Germany is the only country where medical professionals routinely operate in both units of measure. To convert mmol/l to mg/dl, multiply by 18.
Imagine being chased by a bear…how would you feel?
These are all the symptoms of having a low blood sugar.
Luckily there’s a pretty easy fix: eat some sugar. In this case, you want something that will get into your body really quickly. Fast-acting sugars are what you need — things like skittles or juice are perfect for the job.
Fun fact: Anything with carbs eventually breaks down into sugar. But some work faster than others, which is why you want “fast-acting-carbs” like juice and candy instead of “slow-acting carbs” like bread (which take too long to break down into sugar).
You know that feeling when you’ve just eaten a really big meal and you start to get sleepy and tired?
This is a bit what it’s like to have a high blood sugar. The symptoms include:
Your body needs insulin. This will help the sugar in the blood get the cells to be used as energy.
Fun Fact: You might feel thirsty and pee more than normal when your blood sugar is high. This happens because the body is trying to flush out the extra sugar in your body.
Especially in the beginning, checking blood sugar can be a really demoralizing activity: it takes time, it hurts, and often the result isn’t what you expect. But over time, you’ll start to learn how your body reacts to food, activity, and stress, and you’ll learn what to do about it.
Figuring out how many times to check — and when — is a key to balancing your blood sugar. But don’t forget another important thing to balance — diabetes and your life.
Always make sure to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. It can be easy for the result to feel like a test, but it’s not. A blood sugar result is just information that helps you figure out what to do. So try not to be so hard on yourself, give yourself space to learn, and you’ll be just fine.
And always remember: