What Is a Blood Glucose Level?
When it comes to maintaining your health, your blood glucose level is one of the most important readings in your body. Also known simply as blood sugar, blood glucose provides the fuel your body needs to power the brain, heart and muscles. A lot of the glucose in your body comes from the foods you eat, but some is produced by the liver and used as needed. Ideally, your blood glucose level remains stable throughout the day in a range of 80-99 mg/dL (milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood), with temporary spikes occurring after you eat, followed by insulin-aided drops back into the normal range.
If blood glucose doesn’t move into your cells to provide energy, it could lead to a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream that is known as diabetes. On the other hand, if your blood glucose level drops too low between meals, this causes hypoglycemia, also a potentially dangerous health condition. If you suspect you have issues with either high or low blood sugar, it’s critical to monitor your blood glucose level.
How Blood Glucose Works
Glucose is a type of sugar in the blood that provides energy to the cells in your body. When you eat, the amount of glucose in your blood rises and then drops again as your body releases insulin to help move the sugar from your bloodstream into your cells. If too much time passes before eating again, the liver steps in and releases stored glucose to counteract drops in blood sugar. The underlying goal is to always keep your blood glucose level stable within the normal range.
Normal Blood Glucose Levels
Your ideal blood glucose level depends on several factors, including your age, life expectancy and medical history. If you do not have any form of diabetes, your normal fasting blood sugar level should range from 80-99 mg/dL, with a potential increase up to 140 mg/dL right after eating. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your acceptable fasting blood sugar level could be higher at 80-130 mg/dL, with a possible spike up to 180 mg/dL after eating.
Diabetes and Blood Glucose
In some cases, the pancreas doesn’t effectively accomplish its job. Individuals who have diabetes either don't produce any insulin at all — or produce very little — or are resistant to the effects of insulin. If insulin isn’t released into the bloodstream or doesn’t properly do its job, glucose from the foods we eat simply builds up in the bloodstream instead of turning into energy, resulting in diabetes.
Those who develop the most severe forms of diabetes require insulin replacement therapy to control the level of glucose in their blood. In less severe cases, dietary changes and exercise help with diabetes management, although medications and insulin may also be necessary for effective control.
If you develop diabetes, you will need to check your blood glucose level several times a day, usually before and after you eat. This helps you determine how many carbohydrates you can consume in each meal and how much medication or insulin you need to take. The most common way to check your blood sugar level at home is with a glucose meter. These devices allow you to place a small drop of blood on a test strip that slides into the meter. It then analyzes the drop of blood and reports the blood glucose level on the display.
Symptoms and Complications of High Blood Glucose Levels
Hyperglycemia is the medical term for a temporary high blood glucose level in someone with diabetes. This can happen if you eat too much, skip a dose of insulin or your oral diabetes medication, or develop an infection. A high blood sugar level can have serious consequences if you have diabetes, particularly Type 1 diabetes. If your blood sugar isn’t lowered, it could lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that could result in a coma. Symptoms of high blood sugar include frequent urination, excessive thirst, frequent infections, blurred vision, irritability and fatigue.
Hypoglycemia and Blood Glucose
Hypoglycemia is the medical term for temporary low blood sugar, although it can sometimes develop into a chronic condition. It can occur for several reasons, but it happens most often in those with diabetes. In some cases, hypoglycemia is actually a side effect of something else, such as certain liver and kidney diseases, hormone deficiencies and certain medications. In general, a blood glucose reading that is lower than 70 mg/dL puts you at risk of experiencing a hypoglycemic episode.
Symptoms and Complications of Low Blood Glucose Levels
When your blood glucose level drops too low, the symptoms of hypoglycemia often include headache, shakiness, sweating, clamminess, excessive hunger, irritability and confusion. These symptoms can appear suddenly and are usually the result of waiting too long between meals. The consequences — seizures and even sudden death — can be severe. Fast-acting carbohydrates like fruit juice, honey, glucose tablets and hard candy can be used to raise your blood sugar level quickly.
Who Should Check Blood Glucose Levels?
Anyone who experiences the symptoms of high blood sugar or low blood sugar should visit a doctor to have their blood glucose level checked. Obviously, anyone with known endocrine conditions, such as diabetes and hypoglycemia, have to monitor their blood sugar levels as part of their disease management. Other specific groups of people who should keep track of their blood sugar levels include pregnant women and those with significant risk factors, such as an extensive family history of diabetes or obesity combined with a sedentary lifestyle.