Many people with diabetes who use insulin test their glucose two to four times daily. If you don’t need to use insulin, you may test it less often. Your health care provider can tell you when and how often to check your own level. Be sure to share this information with your family.
The process is fairly simple:
First, prick your finger with a sharp needle, called a lancet. In some cases, you can prick a forearm, thigh, or fleshy part of your hand instead.
Next, put a drop of blood on a special coated strip, which shows how much glucose is present. Many people use a small computerized device, called a blood glucose meter, to read the strip.
By tracking changes in the readings, you can tell when your blood glucose goes up or down. This helps you make day-to-day choices about balancing your diet, physical activity, and diabetes medicine. Self-testing also lets you know when to take fast action to treat blood glucose that is very low or high.
Show your family member how to use the test equipment properly. Or ask your health care provider to help you demonstrate. Self-checks are typically done before meals, after meals, and/or at bedtime. A loved one who knows what needs to be done can help you stick to your schedule.
At times, you may need to do unscheduled checks. One such time is when you are sick with a cold or the flu, for instance, which can cause glucose to fluctuate. A family member can remind you to test your blood sugar at least every four hours or can do it for you when you are feeling sick.
In addition, it’s important to check your glucose level if you ever develop symptoms of high blood glucose. These may include frequent urination, excessive thirst, significant fatigue, or unexplained weight loss. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have glucose levels persistently higher than 200 mg/dl or any of the symptoms described above.
Another time you might need a helping hand is when your blood glucose dips very low. Warning signs include feeling nervous, shaky, lightheaded, sweaty, or unusually tired. It’s crucial to test your blood glucose at the first sign of trouble because a low glucose level can quickly drop even more. If your glucose level is lower than 60 to 70 mg/dl and you are about to eat a meal, eat as you normally would. If you are between meals, however, treat low glucose right away with glucose tablets, sugar, honey, fruit juice, nondiet soda, or hard candy. You or a family member should keep checking your glucose and treating it with food every 15 minutes until it rises higher than 70 mg/dl.
If your glucose level falls too low, you may feel confused, act uncooperative, be unable to swallow, have a seizure, or faint. Someone else will need to call for help right away. A family member can also help treat the problem with food or, if you can’t swallow, give you a shot of glucagon, a prescription medicine that raises blood glucose. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you often experience low glucose. Your medications may need to be adjusted.
By learning these basic steps, a loved one can help you keep your glucose level on a more even keel. And if a severe spike or dip occurs, an informed family member can help you handle the situation promptly and safely.