Do Your Blood Sugar Levels Indicate Diabetes?

blood sugar level meter

Story at-a-glance -

  • Blood sugar, also called blood glucose, is exactly what it sounds like: the sugar found in your blood. For your body’s cells to use glucose properly, they need a hormone called insulin. This is produced by the pancreas and is released in the blood when there is a rise in the amount of blood glucose
  • It can be dangerous to have blood glucose levels that are excessively and consistently high, as they can severely damage various parts of your body. High levels can be dangerous for your nerves, blood vessels, eyes and kidneys – complications linked to diabetes

Diabetes is defined as having blood sugar levels that are too high,1 which can lead to a variety of symptoms. But not many people fully understand this concept, as they are not familiar with how blood sugar works.

So what exactly is blood sugar and what levels are ideal? This article will help answer some of the frequently-asked about questions on this topic.

What Is ‘Blood Sugar’?

Blood sugar, also called blood glucose, is exactly what it sounds like: the sugar found in your blood. Glucose is actually a type of sugar that comes from foods with a high carbohydrate count and, for most people, is the main source of energy that their body uses.

For your body’s cells to use glucose properly, they need a hormone called insulin. This is produced by the pancreas and is released in the blood when there is a rise in the amount of blood glucose.

Usually, blood glucose levels increase slightly after you’ve eaten your meals. The pancreas then release insulin so that your blood glucose levels do not reach excessively high amounts. However, if your insulin production is hampered, or if you have become insulin resistant, then it means that you have diabetes.

It can be dangerous to have blood glucose levels that are excessively and consistently high, as they can severely damage various parts of your body. They can wreak havoc on your nerves, blood vessels, eyes and kidneys – complications linked to diabetes.2

How Is Blood Sugar Measured?

Blood sugar levels are measured through glucose tests. There are four types: a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG), an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), a hemoglobin A1C test and a random plasma glucose test.

There are two measurements used for blood sugar levels. In the U.S., the measurement is in milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood or mg/dL. A milligram is a very, very small amount, at least 0.00018 of a teaspoon, while a deciliter is equivalent to 3 and 1/3 ounces.

In the U.K. and Canada, the measurement for blood sugar is in millimoles/liter or mmol/L. To convert to mg/dL, you need to multiply the amount by 18. For example, if a person in the U.K. says that their blood glucose result is 7 mmol/L, in the U.S. it’s read as 126 mg/dL.

What Levels Are Considered Normal?

Your blood glucose levels vary throughout the day. If you are healthy and do not have diabetes, your fasting blood glucose when you wake up should be below 100 mg/dL, while your glucose level before meal times should read between 70 to 99 mg/dL. After meals – or what’s called “postprandial” and is usually taken two hours after eating – the level should be less than 140 mg/dL.

However, the numbers are different for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association advises maintaining levels between 80 to 130 mg/dL before meals. Postprandial levels should be under 180 m/dL.

Having lower levels, or closer to that of non-diabetics, is more advisable and is what many patients and doctors aim for, as they help reduce the risk of complications. A careful diet and frequent monitoring may be needed to achieve lower levels, but this is possible. For a detailed chart of blood glucose levels, check out this chart.3

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