Terms to Know: What is Diabetes? What is Insulin? What is Blood Glucose? What is A1c? What are fasting and postprandial glucose?

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming. Your Primary Care Provider (PCP) may discuss many issues at each visit. They will discuss lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, why medications are used, and how to stay healthy and prevent long-term complications. But sometimes the most basic question is not answered – what is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that prevents your body from using sugar the way it is supposed to. The PCP may refer to your blood glucose levels when monitoring diabetes. Blood glucose is simply another way of saying “the amount of sugar in your blood.” Everybody needs a certain amount of sugar in his or her blood, but patients with diabetes often have too much sugar in their blood, a condition known as hyperglycemia. Patients who consistently have hyperglycemia over the course of many years can damage their kidneys, eyes and are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The goal of treating diabetes is to lower to chances of these events.

In a person without diabetes, the pancreas secretes a substance called insulin. Insulin is what allows the body to take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy. In a patient with diabetes, the pancreas secretes much less insulin. Also, the insulin that is secreted does not work as well in the body. A person with diabetes will likely need to be on injectable insulin or an oral medication to help the body control blood glucose levels. There are many kinds of insulins and oral medications, so a conversation with the doctor or pharmacist should take place in order to determine the best choice of therapy.

Your PCP may request that you monitor fasting and postprandial glucose levels and A1c. A fasting glucose level measures how much glucose is in the blood at least 8 hours after the last meal. A postprandial glucose level measures how much glucose is in the blood 2 hours after the last meal. Your provider can look at these levels and make changes to therapy in order to better control your diabetes. Patients with diabetes want to have a fasting blood glucose between 70 and 130 and a postprandial blood glucose under 180. These levels are taken at one time by taking a small amount of blood after pricking the finger. There is another lab test that can be done that measures something called A1c. The A1c measures how well the blood sugar has been controlled over the past 3 months. This value can be very helpful in monitoring diabetes over the course of many months or years.

It is important that patients with diabetes see their health care professionals on a regular basis. By making lifestyle changes and taking medications correctly, it is possible to live a long, healthy, productive life.

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