How to Control Blood Sugar Levels: A Diabetes GuideChronic Conditions

How to Control Blood Sugar Levels: A Diabetes Guide

In my previous articles, I discussed both the importance of knowing your Diabetes ABC’s as well as how to easily make diabetes-friendly diet changes. In this article, I will focus on another essential diabetes skill: how to control your blood sugar levels and keep them in a healthy range. By knowing what to watch for and knowing how to react, you can be empowered to truly take control of this condition. 


Controlling Blood Sugar Levels: 6 Things to Know

Step 1
Know the Healthy Range for Blood Glucose

Before meals Between 80 and 130 mg/dL  (4.4 and 7.2 mmol/L) 

2 hours after meals Less than 180 mg/dL  (10.0 mmol/L) 

Step 2
Know How to Control Blood Sugar Naturally

How to Control Blood Sugar Levels A Diabetes Guide eating

It is safe to say that the primary goal of diabetes management is to keep your blood glucose levels at a safe range. An important part of this is adjusting your everyday lifestyle habits. This is because many things that you do during the day can cause your blood sugar level to go up and down. By avoiding the following behaviors (or taking the right precautions when it’s unavoidable), you can prevent your blood sugars from dangerously fluctuating throughout the day.

◊ Things that affect your blood sugar level:

× Skipping meals
× Eating at irregular times
× Eating too little or too much food, especially carbohydrates
× Sudden changes in physical activity level
× Emotional stress
× Anytime your health changes (an infection, an illness, or surgery)
× Skipping medications or not taking them at the right time 

Step 3
Know What Symptoms to Watch Out For

Just as it is important to know your Diabetes ABC’s, I encourage every person with diabetes to know the signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Remember—always listen to your body; if something seems wrong, don’t ignore it.

How to Control Blood Sugar Levels A Diabetes Guide

◊ Symptoms of LOW blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia)

Sweating
Shakiness or dizziness
Racing or pounding heartbeat
Headache
Confusion or irritability (or a sudden change in mood)
Tingling sensation in your fingertips or around your mouth

◊ Symptoms of HIGH blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia)

Extreme tiredness
Extreme thirst
Blurry vision or a change in vision
Increased hunger
Increased need to urinate or urinating a lot

Remember— your blood sugar level can be low or very high even in the absence of these symptoms. Therefore, the above list should be thought of as a list of warning signs telling you to act immediately and not as indicators of how well your diabetes is being controlled overall.

Step 4
Know When to Check Your Blood Glucose Levels

How to Control Blood Sugar Levels A Diabetes Guide 1

An essential aspect of controlling blood sugar levels is to know how to check it. While we won’t focus in this article on the nitty-gritty of blood glucose monitoring (details such as how often you should check it and what particular method to use should be determined between you and your doctor), it is important to remember that there are certain circumstances where it is always wise to check your blood sugar level.

◊ Always check your blood sugar when:

You start a new diabetes medication
 Your medication dose gets changed
 You are sick (such as with the flu or an infection)
 You simply suspect that your sugar level may be too low or high

Step 5
Know What to Do When Your Blood Sugar Level is Too High or Too Low

So what should you do when you experience the above symptoms? If you do start having symptoms of either low or high blood sugars, follow the directions below (but if your doctor has already given you a personalized protocol for this situation, be sure to follow your doctor’s directions instead).

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

◊ What to do when you get symptoms of LOW blood sugar:

1 – Check your blood glucose level

2 – If it is lower than 70 mg/dl, or you are in a position where you cannot check it but are having symptoms, eat an emergency sugar food:

♦ 4 glucose tablets or one tube of glucose gel
♦ 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of fruit juice (not low-calorie or reduced sugar)
♦ 1/2 can (4 to 6 ounces) of regular soda
♦ 1 tablespoon of sugar, honey, or corn syrup
♦ A handful of raisins

3 – Wait 15 minutes and check your blood glucose again.

4 – If your glucose level is still low, eat or drink another emergency sugar food.

5 – Check your blood glucose again after another 15 minutes. Continue doing this until your blood glucose level and symptoms improve. 

6 – Once it improves, eat a snack (eg. half a sandwich or a serving of crackers)

High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)

◊ What to do when experiencing symptoms of HIGH blood sugar:

1 – Check your blood glucose level

2 – If it is higher than 250 mg/dl (or if you cannot check it but you are having symptoms)  Drink a glass of water or sugar-free drink (to prevent dehydration)

–  [If you take insulin] Follow your doctor’s directions in taking extra insulin.

3 – Recheck your glucose level every 4 hours until it is below 180 mg/dl. 

Most of the time, going through these steps is enough to get your blood sugar back to a safe level. However, there are times where you may need professional medical help to get things under control. That is what I will cover now.

Step 6
Know When to Seek Medical Help

 If you start experiencing the following symptoms or signs, call your doctor or 911 immediately:

If you start experiencing new symptoms or feel worse after following the above steps
♦ If you feel confused, disoriented, or get slurred speech
If you have a fever
If you are vomiting or have diarrhea
If you have not urinated in 8 hours
If your breath starts having a strong, fruity odor
If your breathing becomes rapid and deep
If you start to lose consciousness or have a seizure
If your blood sugar continues to be more than 300 mg/dL after 8 hours
If you continue to have blood sugar of less than 60 mg/dL after an hour


Now that you know how to control your blood sugar levels, I encourage you to incorporate this knowledge into your daily life. Remember…the more you are in control of your blood sugars, the more control you have over your overall health and wellbeing. 

*The information presented in “How to Control Blood Sugar Levels: A Diabetes Guide” can be found in Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.

Phoebe Chi, MD
Phoebe Chi, MD

As a physician, author, and managing editor of PhoebeMD: Medicine + Poetry, Dr. Chi aims to inspire, educate, and empower the reader community. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, founder and designer at Pendants for a Cause, and a minion to her feline companion, Samantha.


12 replies »

  1. Hate when I think….No! Nothing here for me, I’m great! Then BAM! Hypoglycaemia! I always notice when my diet isn’t great after a few days……..Cheers,H

    • There are many places that can get you the necessary prescription medicines for free or at least for a large discount. At most or all clinics, if the patient mentions it, we can sign them up for patient assistance (depending on their income). Some clinics—such as those that are considered “charity clinics” stock medications that they can give you straight away. My advice (if you have medical problems), is to look online for “charity clinics’ as they would have the best resources for that.

      As for low-cost foods, I’m sure others would have more knowledge about this than me, so I encourage you to ask around (you might even find the information you need through a little googling)

      I hope this was helpful. Take care. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the in-depth information. I have Diabetes 2 and am on a Mediterranean diet. I had never had to use insulin until I went into the hospital last November. I spent nine months and had six flap surgeries to close a coccyx wound open to the bone. I also had osteomyelitis and was on the antibiotic cubicin for six weeks.

    I’m assuming that the stress on my body is what caused my diabetes to get out of control. I wound up on Levemir and insulin shots. I just got home Friday and I have to start testing again as soon as I receive my glucometer. The problem is that there is a wound below the flap and I have to undergo another surgery next Wednesday.
    an
    Is this why my diabetes is out of control? Will you tips above help me to stabilize it again even though I may have to stay in bed for a couple more months before I can get in my wheelchair again.

    Is it the stress in my body and, of course, the emotional weight of what I am going through?

    Thank you, Phoebe

    • Hi Nancy,

      Yes–from what it sounds like, your body is going through a major stress response, which is causing your sugars to go up. Both physical stress (such as surgery or infection) and emotional stress can lead to this response. Because its effect on your sugars can be so significant, I am not surprised that you are needing insulin.

      I understand your situation is very difficult. As for what you can do to stabilize your sugars and minimize the time you are on insulin, the two main things would be to eat smaller, evenly-spaced meals and to do what you can to minimize the emotional stress you are feeling. Things like relaxation techniques and positive social support would be helpful.

      Here is a helpful article on the effect of stress on diabetes if you want to learn more:

      http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/stress.html

      I hope this helped to answer your question. I’m always here if you have more. 🙂

      Phoebe

      • Thank you, Phoebe, for the link And your in-depth answer. You have helped me quite a bit and I appreciate it very much. 🙂

  3. Good morning dear, i am Amazed by your diabetes diet, it is very true and correct, thank you so much for sharing it with us, best regards SKS

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