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Blood Sugar Basics – What You Need to Know #DiabetesAwareness

written by Vidya Sury November 5, 2021
Blood Sugar Basics What you need to know

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With any condition, knowledge is power as it helps you understand how to manage it. Blood sugar is no exception. Here are words and phrases you should know so that when you talk to your doctor, it makes sense. If you are struggling to manage your blood sugar and are living with diabetes, all the more reason to learn what the following terms mean.

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Blood sugar basics glossary

1. A1c (also called Hemoglobin A1c/HbA1c/Glycol Glycohemoglobin test)

This test measures the “average” amount of sugar in your blood over the past 2 to 3 months. It indicates how much glucose has been sticking to your red blood cells. It is expressed as a percentage and the ideal range depends on your age and existing health conditions. If you are an adult and your A1c is 7% or below, your chances of complications with diabetes are lower.

2. Basal Insulin

This is not actually insulin, but the reason you take insulin. Also referred to as “basal insulin replacement,” it helps keep your blood glucose steady between meals and overnight. Those with type 1 diabetes take a basal insulin because their pancreas is broken. People with type 2 diabetes may or may not need it.

3. Blood Glucose

Glucose is a type of sugar that our cells use for energy. Our body makes it from the food we eat and transports it to your cells via the blood. When we say “blood sugar level” or how much glucose is in the blood, it is measured in milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL.

4. Bolus Insulin

This is insulin that someone with diabetes takes when they eat or when they need to lower their blood glucose. It can be different from their basal or background insulin. A bolus injection is a shot of insulin. Those who use insulin pumps get a bolus infusion.

5. ‘Brittle’ Diabetes

Hard to control diabetes used to be referred to as labile or unstable or brittle diabetes because of frequent fluctuations in blood sugar.

6. Carbohydrate or carbs

Carbs are a source of energy and nutrients in our food, along with protein and fat. Carbs include sugars and starches. They’re the main source of fuel for our body. Healthy, complex carbs include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unhealthy carbs or empty carbs are foods with added sugars and few vitamins and minerals such as cookies, soda, and candy.

7. Carb Counting

Carb counting involves keeping track of how many grams of carbs one plans to eat in their diet. This helps calculate how much insulin to take. Carb counting also helps with weight management and blood sugar control.

8. The Dawn Phenomenon

The Dawn phenomenon or Dawn effect is the term used to describe an abnormal early-morning increase in blood sugar (glucose) — usually between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. — in people with diabetes.

9. Diabetes Insipidus

This type of diabetes is caused by problems in your pituitary gland or kidneys. Even though your blood glucose may be normal, you tend to be thirsty, feel weak and pee a lot.

10. Diabetic Ketoacidosis

“DKA” is an emergency caused by excess blood glucose and very little insulin. The body breaks down fat for energy, resulting in ketones. If those build up in the blood, there are chances of slipping into a coma. It can also be fatal.

Living with diabetes Blood sugar basics

11. Diabetes Educator

A diabetes educator is a healthcare professional with the knowledge and experience to educate and support someone with prediabetes or diabetes, helping them prevent/manage the condition.  This can be doctors, nurses, dietitians, mental health professionals, fitness professionals, or pharmacists. The letters “CDE” after their name stand for “certified diabetes educator” and mean they are qualified to be diabetes educators.

12. Diabetes Mellitus or Diabetes

A condition where your body has trouble using or can’t use the glucose in your blood for energy. With type 1, the body’s natural defenses destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. With type 2, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or the body is unable to use it efficiently.

13. Endocrinologist

A doctor that specializes in glands and in hormones like insulin. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, an endocrinologist can help you manage it, treat complications if any.

14. Exchange Lists

This is a meal-planning system that groups foods as carbs, meat and meat alternatives, or fats.  It helps swap certain serving sizes of different foods within these food groups to get the same basic nutrition.

15. Fasting Blood Glucose Test

This is used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes and is done after 8 to 12 hours of fasting.  If you have diabetes, it is important to monitor this

16. Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is when pregnant women get diabetes. This usually goes away when they give birth. By taking care of your diet and being active, you can manage your blood sugar levels to make sure your baby and you stay healthy. It is possible that some women may require insulin. If you do develop gestational diabetes, it puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes later.

17. Glucagon

The pancreas makes this hormone. Unlike insulin which lowers your blood sugar, glucagon raises your blood sugar. If you have a low blood glucose emergency and cannot access anything to eat or drink, you can carry glucagon kits.

18. Glucose Meter

A glucometer or glucose meter helps you measure your blood sugar at home. You prick your fingertip with a lancet and apply the drop of blood to the test strip which is inserted into the meter which then shows your blood sugar level.

19. Glycemic Index

Glycemic Index is a ranking system that helps you compare foods based on how fast they will raise blood sugar. The measure ranks food on a scale of zero to 100. Foods with a high glycemic index, or GI, are quickly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. For example, carbohydrates raise blood sugar fast, while combining protein, fat and fiber with carbs can offset their effect. The glycemic load also looks at serving size to indicate the effect of the food on your blood sugar.

Read more about the Glycemic Index and diabetes

20. Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia is when blood sugar is high, over 160 mg/dL. Your doctor may have set a different target for you. It means there is too much sugar in the blood because the body lacks enough insulin. Hyperglycemia can cause vomiting, excessive hunger and thirst, rapid heartbeat, vision problems and other symptoms.

21. Hypoglycemic

Hypoglycemia is a condition in which your blood sugar (glucose) level is lower than normal. Glucose is your body’s main energy source. Hypoglycemia is often related to diabetes treatment. But other drugs and a variety of conditions — many rare — can cause low blood sugar in people who don’t have diabetes.

22. Insulin

Insulin is the hormone that helps your cells use glucose efficiently. If your pancreas doesn’t make any or can’t make enough, you can take man-made insulin. Types of insulin describe how fast and how long they work: rapid-acting, regular or short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. You may need more than one kind to control your blood sugar.

23. Insulin Pen

One way to get insulin into your body is a shot with a needle and syringe.   The syringe has two parts: the tube where the insulin goes, and the plunger, the part you push down. Insulin pens look similar to the pens you write with. You fill one with cartridges, dial up the dose, and give the shot. Jet injectors use high pressure instead of a needle to push the insulin through your skin in a burst.

24. Insulin Pump

You wear or carry this device next to your body. A thin tube connects it to a needle that goes just under your skin. The pump gives a trickle of insulin all day long to help keep your blood glucose balanced. You can also program a dose of insulin at mealtime or when your blood sugar is too high. Usually, people with type 1 diabetes use one, but someone with type 2 might, too.

25. Insulin Resistance

When your cells don’t use insulin right, even if you have plenty of it, it is called insulin resistance. You usually can’t tell you have insulin resistance, but it leads to prediabetes and diabetes because glucose can’t get from your blood into your cells. It’s linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Losing weight can help turn it around.

26. Oral Glucose Tolerance Test or OGTT

A test that helps your doctor diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. You don’t eat anything the night before. Your doctor will get a sample of your blood and give you a sugary drink. Over the next 2-3 hours, a few blood samples are taken. The results tell your doctor how your body uses glucose.

27. Pancreas

A gland about the size of your hand, just below and behind your stomach. Groups of cells called islets of Langerhans make hormones and digestive juices that help you break down and use food. Its beta cells make insulin, and its alpha cells make glucagon.

28. Prediabetes

Prediabetes is when blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes. It’s also called impaired glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose. If you have it, you’re more likely to get type 2 diabetes. You can lower your chances by losing weight, being more active, or with oral diabetes drugs prescribed by your doctor.

29. Preprandial and Postprandial

Preprandial blood sugar is just before eating a meal and postprandial blood sugar is 2 hours after eating. When preprandial and postprandial sugar is tested, comparing the numbers helps to see how your body reacts to food.

30. Somogyi Effect

Also called the “rebound effect,” it’s when your blood glucose gets really high after it’s been really low, typically while you were sleeping. If it happens a lot, you might need to check your blood sugar in the middle of the night. You can often prevent the Somogyi effect by having a snack in the evening or adjusting your insulin.

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