In 2019 alone, at least $760 billion was spent on addressing the symptoms of diabetes sufferers. While there is currently no cure, there are ways to reverse the more common form – type 2 – and send it into remission. For type 1, however, symptoms need to be managed regularly and your health relies on the medication you take.
Approximately 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes – 5% of all diagnosed cases. The exact cause is unknown, but it is usually diagnosed during childhood.
With no known means of prevention, the management of your blood glucose levels and regularity of insulin injections is paramount. So, to help you avoid long-term complications, we have gathered everything we believe you need to know about blood sugar management for type 1 diabetes here.
What are blood sugar levels?
Also known as blood glucose, your blood sugar level is the amount of glucose that you have in your blood. You ingest glucose from food and drink, meaning that your levels will fluctuate throughout the day.
For those with diabetes, your blood sugar is more prone to spikes. It is for this reason that you will need to routinely check your levels with a finger-prick test, a flash glucose monitor or a continuous glucose monitor.
Finger-prick test – The most traditional form of monitoring blood sugar levels, finger-pricking requires a blood testing meter, a finger-prick device, some test strips and a lancet. The user must pierce the skin with the lancet so that a suitable drop of blood can be tested.
Flash glucose monitor (FGM) – Avoiding the traditional methods of drawing blood from your finger, a flash glucose monitor allows for a painless solution. Instead of a finger-prick test, a small sensor is applied to the back of your upper arm. For up to 10 days, you can read your glucose readings by simply scanning the sensor and reading the glucose levels on a display device.
Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – Similar to an FGM, a CGM has a sensor that sits underneath your skin and measures sugar – but not sugar levels. While a transmitter sends information to your display device, this information is actually the level of glucose in your interstitial fluid. As such, you will still need to perform the occasional finger-prick test to ascertain exact figures.
Why do you need to check blood sugar levels?
Type 1 diabetes causes the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas to be destroyed, preventing the body from being able to regulate blood sugar levels. As there is no insulin to allow the glucose to enter your body’s cells, sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
Routine checks therefore help you identify when your blood sugar levels might be starting to go too low (known as hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia):
Hypoglycemia (hypo) – Eat or drink 15-20g of a fast-acting carbohydrate or you risk becoming unconscious and having a fit. Should you fall unconscious, this is known as severe hypoglycemia and will require a family member or friend to put you into the recovery position, give you a glucagon injection and call for the emergency services.
Hyperglycemia (hyper) – Drink plenty of sugar-free fluids, take extra insulin or contact your doctor to avoid severe headaches. Typically occurring when the blood glucose levels exceed 7 mmol/l before a meal and 8.5 mmol/l two hours after a meal, hyperglycemia is most commonly recognized by the excessive passing of urine (especially at night).
Keep something on you at all times to treat either a hypo or hyper attack. In addition, carry diabetes ID to alert those who may need to support you, and make sure those family and friends know exactly what your symptoms are.
What is the ideal range for blood sugar levels?
Of course, you cannot know how at risk you are of a hypo or hyper attack unless you understand what a healthy blood sugar level is. To illustrate, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has compared a non-diabetic’s blood sugar level against what they recommend for someone with diabetes.
Normal for a person without diabetes – 3.9-5.5 mmol/l (70-99 mg/dl)
ADA recommendation for diabetics – 4.4-7.2 mmol/l (80-130 mg/dl)
1-2 hours after meals:
Normal for a person without diabetes – Less than 7.8 mmol/l (140 mg/dl)
ADA recommendation for diabetics – Less than 10.0 mmol/l (180 mg/dl)
Fasting blood sugar refers to the measurement made after fasting (excluding water consumption) for at least 8 hours. While the ADA has recommended these targets, it is important that you and your doctor decide on a personal target that reflects your age, cognitive status and any cardiovascular complications.
With regards to your levels after eating, this should be the highest your blood sugar reaches throughout the day. Again, the ADA guidelines above are just that: guidelines. You and your doctor should determine a realistic target for you that factors in your general health.
How do you control blood sugar levels?
Once you have understood the importance of balancing your blood sugar levels, you need to know how to maintain that balance. As the nature of your condition means that no insulin can be produced naturally, you need to inject insulin through either an insulin pen or pump.
Pumps are not widely available and are only recommended to those who have specific requirements. Consequently, the majority of those with diabetes inject with a pen (needle). For pen users, the best method for injection is as follows:
- Always wash and dry your hands before medicating.
- Determine where you are going to inject. This must be different each time otherwise the skin can harden and prevent the insulin from effectively being absorbed. Therefore, target fatty tissue beneath your belly button, the outer sides of your thighs or arms, or your buttocks, and be sure to vary the location of each injection.
- Attach the needle to your pen and remove the outer and inner caps.
- Dial up two units of insulin, point your pen upwards and press the plunger until the insulin appears from the top of the needle.
- Dial your dose and aim at your chosen area of skin.
- Pinch the skin and insert the needle at a right angle.
- Release the skin and press the plunger until the insulin dial reaches 0.
- Give the insulin time to enter your body before removing the needle (around 5-10 seconds).
While you may feel squeamish initially, these feelings should disperse over time. The consequence of missing multiple doses can be life-threatening, so learn as much as you can about the benefits of insulin and use that to overpower any negative thinking.
Should pangs of anxiety persist, you can speak to one of our professionals about the different forms of medication and alternative needle sizes available.
Our pharmacists are experienced in explaining the nuances of diabetes. So speak to a member of the team today about your recent type 1 diabetes diagnosis. We would be more than happy to support you where we can.