What Is a Normal Blood Sugar Level?
Medical terminology can be a bit confusing, even when the item in question is something very basic, like blood sugar. You’ve probably heard someone in your life talk about their blood sugar — also known as blood glucose — before. In truth, blood sugar levels affect everyone, not just those with diabetes. Temporary rises and falls in blood sugar can cause a host of problems, such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headaches. Ongoing issues with blood sugar can lead to serious health conditions.
Learning about normal blood sugar levels is helpful for everyone and absolutely critical for those managing endocrine conditions like diabetes or hypoglycemia. If you’re not sure what “normal” should look like, check out this guide to normal blood sugar levels and diabetes test range numbers.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels
Normal blood sugar levels vary throughout the day for everyone and are affected by the foods we eat, the beverages we drink and the exercise (or lack of it) we get. A normal blood sugar level for a person who has not been diagnosed with diabetes should be 80-99 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) when they have not eaten for more than two hours. This means there are 80-99 milligrams of glucose (a type of sugar in the body) per deciliter of blood when the blood is tested.
When a person with normal blood sugar responses eats a meal, the blood sugar will spike but should not exceed 140 mg/dL. The exact amount of the spike will vary based on the foods that are eaten. Approximately two hours after eating a meal, normal blood sugar should fall below the 140 mg/dL maximum in a person who does not have blood sugar issues. A person who has been diagnosed with diabetes or other endocrine conditions will have different blood sugar levels that require close monitoring.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects blood sugar management in the human body. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it means the amount of glucose or sugar in your blood typically remains too high and exceeds blood sugar levels that are considered normal. This occurs when there is a problem with the insulin response in the body.
Insulin is created by the pancreas specifically to manage the level of glucose in the blood to ensure that sugar is transferred to the body’s cells to be used for energy. In a person who has been diagnosed with diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t make the insulin the body needs (Type 1 diabetes), or the body becomes resistant to insulin, causing regular insulin production to no longer be sufficient for controlling blood sugar (Type 2 diabetes).
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin at all or makes very little. The reasons for this still aren’t completely understood, although genetics are believed to play a role in many cases. It’s possible to develop Type 1 diabetes at any age, but it often first appears in children or at a young age. If you develop this type, you will have to take insulin every day to ensure sugar doesn’t build up in your blood to a dangerous level. The type and frequency of insulin doses varies from person to person.
Type 2 diabetes most often develops in middle-aged adults. The reasons the body develops a resistance to insulin in some people aren’t fully known, but scientists have definitely linked diet and obesity to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a form of insulin resistance that occurs due to hormone changes in pregnancy. This type of diabetes usually disappears after giving birth, but it has been linked to a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes in the future.
Monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes are two additional forms of diabetes that don’t receive as much attention. Monogenic diabetes is rare — about 1% to 4% of cases — and usually inherited from one or both parents. It occurs due to a single gene mutation. Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes only occurs in combination with cystic fibrosis, but it affects about 40% to 50% of those who have CF and shortens their lifespans.
Testing for Diabetes
If you experience symptoms that indicate your blood sugar is high, your doctor may investigate by ordering a series of blood tests that include your blood glucose level at the time of the test as well as your glycated hemoglobin level. Also known as an A1C test, your glycated hemoglobin level provides information about your average blood sugar over a period of two to three months. If your A1C level is above 6.5%, it could indicate you have diabetes, especially if the results of a fasting blood sugar test and an oral glucose tolerance test also indicate diabetes.
If you are diagnosed with any form of diabetes, treatment begins with monitoring your blood sugar levels carefully. Many people with Type 2 diabetes successfully manage their blood sugar levels with healthy dietary changes that minimize sugar and carbohydrate consumption and the addition of exercise to their daily lives. In some cases, they also have to take medication or rely on insulin replacement to manage their blood sugar levels.
If you have Type 1 diabetes, insulin replacement therapy is required to control the blood sugar level in your body. Replacement therapies consist of doses of insulin delivered via injections or through an insulin pump. Oral medications may be used in combination with insulin therapy for better results, but insulin itself is not administered orally.