Know your numbers and learn the ABC of diabetes
Knowing your numbers is an important part of managing diabetes and understanding your diabetes symptoms. While your daily blood sugar levels may come to mind first, there are other numbers, which are sometimes referred to as the ABC of diabetes1, that are important to familiarise yourself with.
Keeping track of these important health numbers can help to lower your risk of serious complications. They are:
- HbA1c (A1C)
- Blood pressure
Here’s a helpful breakdown of what numbers matter most, what your numbers should be, and what they mean as part of your treatment plan.
Daily blood sugar
Checking your blood sugar levels on a daily basis can help you see how well you’re managing your diabetes, which can potentially lower your risk of developing more serious health problems. It can also show you what makes your blood sugar levels go up or down. For example, you may notice that they decrease when you’re more active, or increase when you eat certain foods or feel stressed.
In order to check your blood sugar levels and get an accurate reading, you’ll need to use a blood glucose meter.
Then, you can compare your numbers with your target blood sugar levels. These can vary depending on your type of diabetes and the advice given by your healthcare professional but here are some general targets2:
- Before a meal: 4-7 mmol/L
- Two hours after a meal: less than 8.5mmol/L
Keep in mind that your healthcare team may also have personalised targets for you to aim for, so it’s important to speak to your nurse or doctor to get the number that’s specific to you.
If you’re wondering “What is HbA1c?”, here’s a simple explanation: HbA1c reflects the average of your blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. Your HbA1c levels, also called A1C levels, can be determined by taking an HbA1c check.1
Your doctor may refer to HbA1c by another name, such as the:
- glycated haemoglobin
- glycosylated haemoglobin
- haemoglobin A1c
Here are a few important things to know about your HbA1c:
- It is recommended that your HbA1c level is checked at least twice a year, but it may be checked up to four times depending on your individual circumstances.1
- For most adults with diabetes, the HbA1c target is 48 mmol/mol (6.5%)l3
The only way to get a complete picture of your blood sugar control is by reviewing your day-to-day blood sugar levels along with your regular HbA1c tests, and working closely with your healthcare team to interpret the results. Learn more about calculating your HbA1c.
Blood pressure and diabetes
You’ve probably had your blood pressure taken at a doctor’s visit, but you might not know what is actually being measured. Your blood pressure numbers represent the force at which blood is pumping through your arteries when your heart beats, in the following format:
- The top number shows systolic pressure (when your heart beats)
- The bottom number shows diastolic pressure (when the heart is resting)
Diabetes and high blood pressure
Diabetes is a risk factor for high blood pressure4, and left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Generally speaking, your target blood pressure range should be 120/80 mmHG or lower5. However, if you are an adult with diabetes, your doctor may recommend that you aim for less than 140/90 mmHG4.
Talk to your healthcare team about your personalised blood pressure goals.
Cholesterol and diabetes
Along with blood pressure, you may have had a cholesterol test (also called a lipid panel or lipid profile), which measures the amount of four types of fats in your blood.
- Total cholesterol: The total amount of cholesterol in your blood.
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol: LDL stands for low-denstity lipoproteins. High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up to reduce or block blood flow in the arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke7.
- HDL or “good” cholesterol: High-density lipoproteins help remove LDL cholesterol from your arteries to keep blood flowing. High levels of HDL cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke7.
- Triglycerides: Another type of fat in your blood that can increase your risk for heart disease.
Like high blood pressure, high cholesterol is another risk factor for heart disease that people with diabetes should keep an eye on.
Diabetes and high cholesterol
It is well known that diabetes can affect your cholesterol levels8. Even if you’re keeping your blood sugars in range, you may have decreased HDL cholesterol and higher LDL cholesterol levels.
Here’s what to look for with your cholesterol levels:
- The total cholesterol number should be less than 4 mmol/L.
- Bad cholesterol (LDL) levels should be under 2 mmol/L.
- Good cholesterol (HDL) levels should be at least 1.0 mmol/L in men or 1.2 mmol/L in women9
Tips to help you thrive with diabetes
Now that you know your diabetes numbers, these tips can help you take the next steps towards making informed decisions about your health:
- Keep your diabetes numbers in one location (like an app on your phone or in a journal).
- Talk to your healthcare team about your personalised numbers and target goals and work together to meet them.
- Build healthy habits that will make a difference, from following treatment plans and eating well, to getting more active.
- Surround yourself with a strong support team full of the people in your life who are dedicated to your success. They can help you stay motivated as you work toward your goals.
- NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/going-regular-check-ups/#:...(HbA1C%20test,your%20GP%20or%20diabetes%20nurse Accessed January 15, 2024
- Diabetes UK https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/tes... Accessed January 15, 2024
- Diabetes UK https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/hba1c Accessed January 15, 2024
- Diabetes UK https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/blo... Accessed January 15, 2024
- American Heart Association https://www.knowdiabetesbyheart.org/articles/know-your-numbers-lower-you... Accessed January 15, 2024
- Salanitro AH, Roumie CL. Blood pressure management in patients with diabetes. Clinical Diabetes. 2010;28(3):107-114. doi:10.2337/diaclin.28.3.107
- Centers for Disease and Control Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm#:~:text=LDL%20(low%2Ddensity%20lipoprotein),for%20heart%20disease%20and%20stroke Accessed January 15, 2024
- Cleveland Clinic https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11918-cholesterol-high-ch... Accessed January 15, 2024
- Diabetes.co.uk https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-health-guidelines.html Accessed January 15, 2024
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