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When To Check Blood Sugar Levels: Tips and Surprises

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One of the more common questions people with diabetes ask is when to check blood sugar levels. The answer is both simple and complicated at the same time, so let’s look at the particulars.

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Experts have come up with some general “rules” or guidelines for checking blood sugar (glucose) levels, but as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. First, here are the basic tips:

  • If you have type 1 diabetes, you should check glucose levels at least three times a day
  • Testing times for type 1 diabetes can include before and after meals, before and after exercise, before going to bed, and during the night
  • If you have type 2 diabetes and you use insulin, you should check your levels one or more times daily, depending on how many insulin shots you need
  • Testing times for type 2 diabetes is usually before meals, after a fast of 8 or more hours, and sometimes after meals
  • If you have type 2 diabetes and are managing the disease without medication or with oral antidiabetes drugs only, you may not need to test your levels every day. Surprised?

In fact, a recent Cochrane review reported that people with type 2 diabetes who were not on insulin and who self-monitored their blood sugar levels showed no significant effect on their well-being, quality of life, or hemoglobin A1c levels. Mayer Davidson, MD, a professor of medicine at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles and an author of one of the reviewed studies noted that “Patients aren’t using these numbers to do anything clinically significant,” and that self-monitoring among people with type 2 diabetes who don’t take insulin “doesn’t appear to provide enough benefits to routinely recommend checking blood sugar levels regularly.”

Surprised again? It seems that the rules can be broken, but the critical thing to remember is that they should be broken only if the end result is beneficial for your health.

In fact, breaking (or bending!) the rules is essential so you can customize your testing program to fit your lifestyle and life circumstances. For example, you may need to temporarily test more often if you

  • Are newly diagnosed
  • Are pregnant
  • Are ill
  • Are experiencing an unusual amount of stress (physical and/or emotional)
  • Begin to see big fluctuations in your blood sugar readings
  • Change your daily routine (e.g., switch to a different work shift, add or delete exercise from your day, take on a heavy workload)
  • Use an insulin pump
  • Change diabetes medications
  • Need to take other medications for another health condition
  • Become depressed
  • Undergo surgery
  • Suddenly don’t feel right, physically or mentally, even if you aren’t sure of the reason

As you can see, the changing circumstances of daily life can have an impact on when you check blood sugar levels. If you accept this fact, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and stay in communication with your healthcare provider, you have an excellent chance of optimally managing your diabetes.

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Why check blood sugar levels?
It’s not enough to just check your blood sugar levels; you need to use the information to your advantage. That means both the glucose numbers and when you take them provide you with vital information that can allow you and your doctor to decide if you need to make modifications in your diet, exercise program, or medication plan.

In addition, this information can help you make other decisions about how you can manage your diabetes. For example, should you start to practice some stress management techniques, try natural remedies that can lower blood glucose levels, make changes in your work habits, or join a diabetes support group?

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If you can successfully manage your diabetes over a prolonged period of time, your doctor may suggest you reduce the number of times you test yourself. But that perk only comes if you do the work on establishing a testing plan that suits your situation.

Ultimately, the best times to get your glucose readings are the ones that meet your specific needs and match your health status and lifestyle. Discuss your questions and concerns about when to check blood sugar levels with your doctor or a diabetes educator and develop a plan of action that works for you.

American Diabetes Association
Group Health Cooperative
Malanda UL et al. Self-monitoring of blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus who are not using insulin. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012 Jan 18:1:CD005060
Mayo Clinic

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