Know your numbers

Know your numbers

You check your blood glucose regularly and have your numbers in your metre or on your phone. But are you using that information?

“There are lots of ways people can use this data,” says Molly McElwee-Malloy, RN, CDE, a clinical services manager for Tandem Diabetes Care. Studying your numbers can help you better understand how food, exercise, and medications affect your blood glucose. 

Going beyond A1C        

“Your A1C is just a tiny picture of what’s going on,” says McElwee-Malloy. Your day-to-day blood glucose readings will give you and your provider more details about how your management plan is working. For example, seeing your morning fasting blood glucose is always high or your blood glucose is consistently high two hours after eating could alert you that you need some changes. “It warrants some problem-solving,” says Diabetic Living advisor Toby Smithson, M.S., RDN, LD, CDE. “It may be something you ate, a difference in physical activity, a poor night’s sleep, a cold or infection brewing, or a missed medication. There really are a number of reasons you can have a high or low reading.”

Your personal plan

How often you check your blood glucose and what else you keep track of will depend on your individual goals and your overall diabetes management plan. For example, if you’re trying to learn how exercise affects your glucose, keeping track of the length and time of your evening walk, and then checking blood glucose before and after could be empowering, says McElwee-Malloy. A consistently low blood glucose reading after exercise could help you learn that having a small snack before your workout helps keep your blood glucose stable. Tracking your blood glucose after meals could also help you see the effects of medications, insulin, or whether certain foods are problematic for you.

If you use insulin, monitoring blood glucose can help you adjust your insulin doses and timing, among many other things. If you don’t use insulin, you and your provider can determine how often to perform checks—and what to do with that information. For example, you may track two hours after you eat if you’re trying to get a better idea of how foods affect your blood glucose.

Tools to love

There are plenty of tracking tools to explore. Most blood glucose metres have enough memory to store readings for at least three months, which could be an adequate tool on its own, says Hamaty. You can download this data using an app or computer software to help you look at the numbers between appointments, and your provider can download the data from your metre using a docking station so that you can review it together. Hamaty says some patients prefer pen and paper for their own review of the information or to add notes.

“With the CGM data, patients have 24 hours’ worth of data and can really see what happens to their blood sugars,” says Laura Young, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the University Of North Carolina School Of Medicine in Chapel Hill. 

Whatever device you choose to use, the important thing is to decide how often and when to check your numbers, to do it consistently, and to regularly review your data. “It’s being able to see those longer-term trends,” says Young. She adds that, over time, having a better handle on your numbers can help you feel good when you make good choices, and build off that positive energy as you continue to manage your health.