People who have diabetes may hear or read a lot about controlling, or managing, the condition. But what is diabetes control and why is it so important?
What Is Diabetes Control?
When you hear your doctors or health care providers talk about "diabetes control," they're usually referring to how close your blood sugar, or glucose, is kept to the desired range. Having too much or too little sugar in your blood can lead you to feel sick now and can cause health problems later.
Managing diabetes is like a three-way balancing act: The medications you take (insulin or pills), the food you eat, and the amount of exercise you get all need to be in sync.
Diabetes can get out of control if someone:
doesn't take diabetes medicines as directed
doesn't follow the meal plan (like eating too much or not enough food without adjusting diabetes medicines)
doesn't get regular exercise or exercises more or less than usual without making changes to his or her diabetes plan
has an illness or too much stress
doesn't check blood sugar levels enough
What Can Happen if Diabetes Is Not Under Control?
Out-of-control blood sugar levels can lead to short-term problems like hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, or diabetic ketoacidosis. In the long run, not controlling diabetes can also damage the vessels that supply blood to important organs, like the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. This means that heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems can happen to people with diabetes.
These problems don't usually show up in kids or teens who have had the disease for only a few years, but they can happen to adults with diabetes. Kids and teens with diabetes who don't control their blood sugar levels can be late going into puberty and might not end up as tall as they would have otherwise.
The good news is that keeping blood sugar levels under control can help keep you healthy and prevent health problems from happening later.
How Do People Know When Diabetes Is Under Control?
If you have diabetes, your doctor or diabetes health care team will tell you what your blood sugar levels should be (usually called a target range). If you have diabetes, you're trying to keep your blood sugar level as close to the target range as possible. As you get older, your target range may change.
The only way to know if your blood sugar level is close to your target range is to measure your blood sugar level several times a day with a glucose meter. Your diabetes health care team will help you determine when and how often you should be checking your blood sugar level. Checking it regularly and keeping a record of the test results is very important — this helps you and your diabetes health care team make adjustments to your diabetes management plan as needed.
Some people with diabetes also use continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), which are wearable devices that measure blood sugar every few minutes throughout the day and night by using a sensor that is inserted under the skin. By providing a more detailed profile of a person's blood sugar levels, these devices can help some people with diabetes do an even better job of "fine-tuning" their blood sugar control.
The glucose meter and CGMs tell you what your blood sugar level is at the moment you test. But another type of blood sugar test, the glycosylated hemoglobin (pronounced: gly-KOH-sih-lay-tid HEE-muh-glo-bin and also known as the hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c) test, will help you and your doctor know how your blood sugar control was over the 2 to 3 months before the test was done. In general, the lower your HbA1C level, the better you're doing at controlling your diabetes.
Keeping blood sugar levels close to normal will be challenging at times. However, you can help keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range with these steps:
Take your insulin or pills when you're supposed to.
Follow your meal plan.
Get regular exercise.
Check your blood sugar levels often and make changes with the help of your diabetes health care team.
Visit your doctor and diabetes health care team regularly.