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There are so many numbers thrown around when it comes to diabetes – it can get confusing! So, what do they all mean and which ones are important?

We tend to talk about monitoring glucose levels using two methods – HbA1c and self-monitoring blood glucose levels (or the finger stick). Our HbA1c can tell us our average glucose levels in the blood over the last 3 months but won’t tell us whether that lunch we ate yesterday caused our glucose levels to rise beyond our target. We can use our glucometers at home to assess the immediate impact of meals and other factors like, exercise, stress, illness and medication on blood glucose levels.

HbA1c
When your doctor asks you to get your blood tested with a pathology lab, that is your HbA1c. The HbA1c reading is quite clever – it looks at how much glucose has been attached to your red blood cells over their 3 month lifespan. This gives us a number reported as a percentage. This number is not the same as the numbers you get off your meter – they are two completely different measures. To reduce our risk of long term effects of diabetes, we would generally aim for our HbA1c to be less than 7%.

You and your doctor can use HbA1c to monitor and adjust management strategies like medication, diet and physical activity. It is recommended that people with diabetes have their HbA1c checked every 3-6 months.

Monitoring your own blood glucose levels
If you want more specific detail about exactly what aspects of your management might be causing your levels to rise and fall, you may like to use your glucometer at home. You may choose to check your levels at different times of the day, on different days of the week to understand the effects of certain things. For example, if you wanted to know the impact of a bowl of pasta on your blood glucose levels, you may check before that meal and then two hours after starting your pasta.

General targets are:
• 6-8mmol/L before meals or when fasting
• 6-10mmol/L two hours after starting a meal
• never less than 4mmol/L at any time.

It is up to you how often you check and will probably depend on what you want to find out. Once you understand how various foods and activities affect your blood glucose levels, you can start to understand what you can do to manage them. Check out our blood glucose testing checklist if you think your blood glucose reading might be incorrect.

For more information on blood glucose monitoring, you may like to come along to MeterSmart, our free group education session for NDSS registrants where we talk about all things meters and monitoring!

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