We can all come up with plenty of excuses not to test our blood sugar. For one, yeah, it stings a little (No pain, no gain, the angel on my shoulder whispers in my ear). For another, testing isn’t convenient, no matter how quickly the meter works or how small it is. While seemingly everyone else is carelessly enjoying a meal or leaping into the swimming pool, you are on the sidelines trying to ignore your diabetes. And of course, sometimes, we just do not want to know what the number will be. It’s easier to ignore the ugly truth than face it.
There are, however, plenty of reasons to test. Good reasons. Let’s examine them:
- You are hungry. If you are hungry, it’s possible your blood sugar is on the low side or you are in an official state of hypoglycemia. It’s better to know your number before treating versus eating, without testing, based on hunger. Sometimes I’m ravenous because it’s lunchtime, but other times my body is trying to tell me my blood sugar is low and I need an immediate source of carbohydrate.
- You are thirsty. Sure, you might just be dehydrated. But thirst is one of the symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Again, it’s always better to test than to assume you just need a glass of water. Testing can reveal a high blood sugar that requires your attention. If you are high, drinking plenty of fluids is important to rehydrate.
- You are tired. I can become tired when I am high or low, so if I’m feeling especially exhausted, I check my blood sugar. A low can run me down for a few hours, so after a low blood sugar, I have to check frequently. A high can have me in a fog, and it’s easier for me to not be inconvenienced by checking again a few hours later, but I usually test anyway. I set my alarm and make sure I’m not still running high or that I haven’t roller coastered into a low.
- You are going to drive. Getting behind the wheel with a high or low blood sugar not only endangers you and your passengers, but other people on the roads and sidewalks as well. Consider driving to be a privilege and a great responsibility. If you are too low to drive, it is best to treat your low, check fifteen minutes later to see where you stand. Another option is to ask someone else to drive even after you’ve treated, especially if your blood sugar is unstable that day.
- You are going to bed. Some people are incredibly deep sleepers, and a high or a low blood sugar (called hypoglycemia unawareness) will not awake them. I have to remind myself that eight hours is a long time to not check my blood sugar, so I need to be sure to have a good number before I hit the sack. On many occasions, I have set my alarm and tested in the middle of the night.
- You are irritated. One of the tall tale signs that I am low is if my alter-personality comes out. And be warned; she is angry! The beauty of hypoglycemia, if there is such a thing, is that our bodies do a pretty good job warning us that we need carbohydrates. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include irritability or nervousness, shaking, a racing heart, sweating, hunger, and more. Each patient is different, so it’s wise to reflect on what your symptoms are and review with your doctor how to treat a low.
- You are stressed. I remember going through periods of high blood sugars. Frustrated, I called my dietitian and diabetes educator and asked her what the possible cause could be. She asked me about what was going on in my life. If you are feeling stressed over family, job, or other personal matters, consider how that is impacting your blood sugars. You might need to make some serious changes in your life and seek professional help.
- You are busy. Ahhh, aren’t we all? Some days I am rushing from classroom to classroom, and then I drive home from work and realize that I didn’t check my blood sugar for five hours. This results in high sugars staying high for too long or me skipping my afternoon snack which almost always leads to an evening low. I have found that setting an alarm or writing down a reminder and placing it somewhere visible helps me remember keep tabs on my diabetes.
- You are going to exercise. Exercise is both a beauty and a beast of diabetes. Initially, exercise does increase blood sugars, but the after effects of exercise generally lower blood sugars, sometimes for days afterward. Talk to your doctor about what an acceptable pre-exercise blood sugar number should be. You also need to figure exercise into your meal planning. Always wear your medical identification, carry an emergency source of carbohydrate, and have a partner or a cell phone nearby when exercising.
- You just do not feel right. Everyone, diabetic or not, has days when they just feel off. However, people with diabetes must be ultra-sensitive to their bodies cues and not blow off a strange or unfamiliar feeling. Oftentimes I begin to feel anxious up to an hour before I have a low blood sugar, and other times, my hypoglycemia comes on quickly and without much warning. Because I do not have a pattern of common symptoms, I know to check my sugar at the first sign of discomfort or uneasiness.
There are many other reasons to test your blood sugar, and I’m sure you can come up with equally as many excuses not to test. However, you hold most of the power in your diabetes management, and of course a key component of living well with diabetes is testing, testing, and testing more. May you find the conviction and motivation to keep your meter handy.