Diabetes affects your body's ability to use sugar to make energy. This happens when your pancreas is unable to make the right amounts of insulin to help process sugar or when your body is not able to properly use insulin. The sugar stays in your bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to increase.
If blood sugars are poorly controlled, both short-term and long-term complications can develop. Short-term complications may include dizziness, fatigue, frequent urination, increased hunger or thirst, and even loss of consciousness. Long-term complications include heart, kidney, eye, and nerve damage. In some cases, people need to have their feet or legs amputated due to poor circulation or infection.
There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 (formerly called insulin-dependent) diabetes. Your pancreas makes very little or no insulin. You'll need regular injections of replacement insulin.
- Type 2 (formerly called non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. Your body doesn't manufacture enough insulin or has trouble using it. This type, which affects 90% of people with diabetes, can be controlled with diet, exercise, and medication (pills or insulin injections).
Trying to keep blood sugar levels under control requires frequent monitoring, so home testing kits are particularly helpful. Home testing allows you to control your diabetes, instead of it controlling you. It also allows you to see how certain foods and activities affect your blood sugar level.
Most blood sugar testing kits consist of a blood sugar monitor, lancets and a lancing device, and test strips. Prick your fingertip with the lancing device, put a drop of your blood on the strip and stick it in the meter. The meter gives you a reading of your blood sugar level, usually in under a minute. Some brands of meters store your readings and provide averages. Models are also available that download results to a personal computer diary that includes the times of your readings and when you last ate.
How often should you test your blood sugar? The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends the following:
- for individuals using insulin more than once a day: at least as often as insulin is being used
- for individuals being treated with oral anti-diabetic medications or lifestyle changes only
Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend a different testing schedule. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how often you should be monitoring your blood sugar, and what your results mean.
People with diabetes may be at risk for ketoacidosis, a medical emergency that can lead to coma or death. This happens when the body can't use blood sugar for energy because of a lack of insulin. Fat is broken down for energy instead of sugar, and this leads to a buildup of by-products of fat called ketones. Ketones can be measured by passing urine onto a test strip. If there is a colour change, it can be matched up with a colour on the colour chart in order to determine the levels of ketones in your urine. People who may be at risk for ketoacidosis include those who have very high blood sugar levels and those who are sick. Talk to your doctor to determine if you should be testing your ketone levels.
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