A Guide to Blood Sugar Levels

Whether you have Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or gestational diabetes, diabetes management starts with knowing your blood sugar levels.

In fact, even if you are not diabetic, it can be important to monitor your blood glucose every once in a while — especially if you have a family history of diabetes or other risk factors.

So, what’s a “normal” blood glucose level? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. While you should always consult with your healthcare provider to determine the range and diabetes treatment that’s right for you, we’ve compiled some general guidelines below.

According to the American Diabetes Association, people who may benefit from regular blood glucose testing include:

  • People taking insulin
  • Pregnant women
  • Those who have a hard time controlling blood glucose levels
  • Those with low blood glucose levels
  • People who have  ketones from high blood glucose levels

Normal blood sugar levels

Each individual with diabetes has a unique range of blood sugar levels that they should try to maintain.

There will likely be different numbers for before meals versus after meals, during sleep, and while exercising.

Therefore, your blood glucose goal may vary based on the time of day and the activity you are taking part in at the time.

Factors that may cause variation in your target range may include:

  • Age
  • Other health conditions
  • How long you have had diabetes
  • Presence of heart disease
  • Diabetes complications including damage to eyes, brain, or blood vessels as well as kidney disease or high blood pressure
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Stress

According to the American Diabetes Association, the following chart shows a general guide of blood glucose levels for those with diabetes and those without.

Time of checkTarget blood sugar levels for people without diabetesTarget blood sugar levels for people with diabetes
Before mealsless than 100 mg/dl80-130 mg/dl
1–2 hours after the start of a mealless than 140 mg/dlless than 180 mg/dl

What does it mean if you’re out of range?

When your blood sugar is out of your ideal range, it means you are experiencing either hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Here are some out-of-range blood glucose levels and what they may be trying to tell you:

Fasting blood sugar levelRisk level and suggested action
50 mg/dl or underDangerously low: Seek medical attention
70-90 mg/dl or underPossibly too low: Consume sugar upon experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, or seek medical attention
90-120 mg/dl or underNormal range
120-160 mg/dl or underMedium: Seek medical attention
160-240 mg/dl or underToo high: Work to bring down high blood sugar levels
240-300 mg/dl or underMuch too high: This could be a sign of ineffective glucose management, so see a doctor to lower blood sugar
30 mg/dl or aboveVery high: Seek immediate medical attention

High blood sugar may be caused by:

  • Not enough insulin
  • Insulin resistance
  • Too much food
  • Sickness or infection
  • Menstruation
  • Stress
  • Expired insulin
  • An insulin pump issue

Low blood sugar may be caused by:

  • Too much insulin
  • Not enough food/carbs
  • Sickness
  • Physical activity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Monitoring your blood glucose

Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, your treatment plan should include frequently monitoring your blood sugar at home with a glucose monitor in addition to having your A1c tested by a doctor.

Most blood sugar meters involve a simple finger-prick test and give readings in mg/dl.

Here’s a simple how-to:

1. Wash your hands

2. Insert a test strip into your blood glucose meter

3. Use your lancing device to prick your finger and get a drop of blood

4. Hold the edge of the test strip to the drop of blood and wait for the result. Your blood sugar level (the amount of glucose in your blood) will appear on the meter’s display area.

Another option is a continuous glucose monitor, CGM, which is inserted under the skin and stays attached to the body with a small wire.

You can check out this guide we created about CGMs to find out if one is right for your blood sugar control!    

It’s important to keep track of your blood sugar levels (either by writing them down or reviewing results in your meter’s log) to watch out for patterns. If your levels are off for several days in a row, it may be time to change your diabetes care plan or diabetes medications.

Choosing the right monitor for you

You should always consult your doctor or healthcare professional before making any treatment decisions. However, we’ve compiled some tips for choosing the right blood glucose meter or device for your needs.

When browsing the many options of diabetes products, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:

1. How often do you need to test your blood sugar?

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, your blood sugar testing needs will be different. If you plan on testing frequently—for example, Type 1 diabetics test anywhere from 4 to 10 times per day—you may find that you need more from a glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor.

Some extra features of blood glucose meters available include:

  • Ability to store hundreds of blood sugar tests
  • Ability to download data to share with healthcare professionals—and/or an accompanying mobile app
  • Bluetooth capability
  • Fast testing time (5 seconds or less)
  • 7 or 14-day blood sugar averages
  • A light for testing at night

On the other hand, if you only need to test infrequently and/or temporarily, you may not need the features listed above and can instead choose a blood glucose meter that is smaller, simpler, and perhaps cheaper.

2. What are your lifestyle needs?

Are you often on-the-go or will you be taking care of your diabetes needs mostly in the comfort of your own home?

For instance, Type 1 diabetics are constantly monitoring their blood sugar, so flexibility and portability of products are extremely important. The Bayer Contour Next EZ Meter Kit includes everything from the meter and lancing devices to a logbook and carrying case!

3. What type of diabetes do you have?

If you have a different type of diabetes, you may not need to bring medical supplies with you wherever you go. Depending on your needs, blood glucose monitors come in compact options like the FreeStyle Lite Blood Glucose Monitoring System as well as more robust options.

4. Do I need a discreet device?

Your desire for discretion is another factor to consider. Do you want something small that no one can really see, or do you not mind your medical supplies being noticed?

A great discreet option is the Bayer Contour Next ONE Blood Glucose Meter. Do you have reduced vision, reduced dexterity, or sensitive skin?

Lastly, any additional conditions you may have such as reduced vision, reduced dexterity, or sensitive skin may affect the type of diabetes products you need.

You may, for example, need a blood glucose meter that uses a larger text size or higher contrast. There are even meters that can read your numbers out loud, like the Advocate Redi-Code+ Talking Glucose Meter Kit.

Alternatively, you may want a meter or other device that is easier to hold, and/or a lancing device that is easier on the skin like the Genteel Plus Lancing Device.

Understanding your A1c Test

When you go to the doctor, they will take a blood test (from the vein instead of an at-home finger stick) to determine your A1c.

So, what even is an A1c? It’s a number, usually given in percentage form, that measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months.

Because the A1c is an average over time, it can provide your healthcare professional with more of an overall glimpse into your blood sugar management than individual glucose tests.

The below CDC chart notes appropriate A1c levels for those with and without diabetes:

No diabetesBelow 5.7%
Prediabetes5.7% to 6.4%
Diabetes6.5% or above

Keeping your A1c in range can help prevent complications of diabetes, such as vision loss, neuropathy, kidney damage and more.

If you still aren’t sure which type of diabetes management and/or supplies are right for you, contact your doctor.

Better Health carries a selection of diabetes supplies that are reimbursable through insurance. You can also request free samples through our website or call us for help at 415-475-8444.

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