Blood sugar helps run many of the body’s organs, including the brain and heart. But too much of a good thing can be dangerous for our bodies. High blood glucose (or sugar) can lead to diseases—like diabetes—that when left uncontrolled can damage your eyes, nerves, kidneys, skin, heart, and blood vessels.
If your blood glucose gets too high, you can develop diabetes mellitus—diabetes for short—a disease that nearly 30 million Americans have. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing your weight, you can keep your blood glucose at a healthy level and help prevent diabetes and its complications.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
Your body has a blood sugar target that it will try to maintain.
- Before a meal, a typical blood glucose level will be 80–130 mg/dL.
- Two hours after a meal, your blood glucose level should be less than 180 mg/dL
The American Diabetes Association lists four criteria for the diagnosis of diabetes. These include:
- Having a value of greater than or equal to 6.5% for a blood test called Hemoglobin A1C, which measures your average blood sugar levels for the past 3 months
- Having a fasting glucose level equal to or greater than 126 mg/dL
- Having a 2-hour plasma glucose equal to or greater than 200 mg/dL after being tested with an oral glucose drink
- Presenting at the hospital with symptoms of high blood sugar and having a random glucose test at the time showing a value of 200 mg/dL or greater
What Are Risk Factors for Diabetes?
In certain people, blood sugar levels may be higher than ordinary after a meal but not high enough for the individual to be diagnosed with diabetes. That is known as prediabetes. Nearly 85% of people who have prediabetes do not know they have it. Having prediabetes puts you at an increased risk of developing diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and consistent strokes.
In prediabetes, your body tends to produce more insulin, the hormone that tells your cells to take in glucose. Without this hormone, the sugar remains in the blood and not in the cells, where it belongs. As your body gets exposed to more glucose, it will release more insulin until it reaches a point where it cannot secrete more insulin to tell your cells to absorb the glucose in the blood. That is when diabetes starts.
Other risk factors for developing diabetes include:
- Being overweight
- Being 45 years or older
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Lacking physical activity
- Being African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, or Alaska Native. Some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans may be at risk, too.
Types of Diabetes
There are several forms of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is when your body does not produce insulin. It usually is diagnosed in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood.
- Type 2 diabetes most often develops in adults over the age of 45. But in recent years, younger people have also developed Type 2 diabetes. Unlike in Type 1, in Type 2, your cells do not respond as effectively to insulin and thus cannot absorb the glucose in the blood.
- Gestational diabetes can develop in pregnant women who have not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. It occurs when a woman’s body cannot make enough insulin while pregnant. Gestational diabetes can get reversed, but a woman diagnosed with it will be followed closely by her obstetrician to ensure it does not affect the developing child.
Managing Diabetes and High Blood Sugar
You are in control of managing your diabetes. In addition to eating healthy foods, getting plenty of exercise and avoiding sugary soft drinks will go a long way toward helping you manage your glucose levels. However, if you do develop diabetes, you may need medications that make your body more sensitive to insulin, so your cells take up more glucose around the blood. That is what metformin (Glucophage or Glucophage XR), one of the first-line medications prescribed when someone is diagnosed with diabetes, does. Metformin is generic and affordable.
Other medications that can get prescribed for diabetes depend on your risk factors and comorbidities. Your prescribed medication may include glipizide f(Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL) which belongs to the sulfonylureas drug class and increases bodily insulin production.
Other medications used to help your body secrete more insulin include glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists like semaglutide (Ozempic) or dulaglutide (Trulicity). These are much newer medications, and your ScriptSave® WellRx prescription savings card will help you save if you get prescribed one of these medications.
Other medications that might be prescribed include sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, such as dapagliflozin (Farxiga) or empagliflozin (Jardiance). These help your kidneys secrete more sugar through the urine, thereby helping your body get rid of more sugar in the blood. One of the drawbacks to SGLT2 inhibitors is that they can cause bacterial urinary tract infections.
Finally, if your diabetes gets poorly managed or you found it challenging to change your lifestyle, you may need insulin to help control your sugar levels. There are many different types of insulin. If you have Type 2 Diabetes, you may only need one injection of insulin per day, but some may need two injections per day. If you have diabetes and your medication is not effective in controlling your sugars—you will likely need to take a long-acting form of insulin in the mornings and a short-acting form before every meal. The ScriptSave® WellRx prescription savings card can help save you hundreds of dollars a year because you also will need to purchase testing strips and lancets to be diligent about your daily glucose checks.
Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease. Eating healthy home-cooked meals, eating a balanced diet of vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fruit can help prevent diabetes and keep your blood sugar levels under control. Getting a yearly physical with your doctor will help you stay on top of your blood sugar and live a fulfilled, healthy life.
Gabriel Espinoza, MD has experience in caring for patients in both primary care and emergency settings. Some of the topics he has focused on during his medical career include various areas in public health, pediatrics, and wellness. He has coauthored a chapter on the utility of point of care ultrasound in the diagnoses of various eye conditions. The content written by Dr. Espinoza is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.