Getting blood glucose (sugar) down

Help with getting your blood glucose levels down over time

July, 2017


Why do I need to get my blood glucose down?

Hyperglycaemia (when your blood glucose levels are high) can be very bad for your health, especially if it goes on for any great length of time. Have a read of some of the articles on this website to get a better understanding of why it’s so important to avoid:

What to do when you have hyperglycaemia
Inside diabetes

What’s the difference between blood glucose levels and your HbA1c?

There are two measures of your blood glucose levels:

  • The HbA1c blood test done by a healthcare professional at least once a year
  • The day-to-day finger-prick test some people do at home with a blood glucose meter

Everyone with Type 2 diabetes should get the HbA1c test at least annually. It shows how your blood glucose levels have been on average over the last few months, and it’s a good way to keep track of how you’re doing with any medications or lifestyle changes. If you can get your day-to-day glucose levels down, your HbA1c measure will also gradually come down.

What is HbA1c?

HbA1c is a measure of how much glucose has been in your bloodstream over the previous 8-12 weeks. Red blood cells last for about this length of time before they’re renewed, so doctors can test your blood to see how much glucose your red blood cells have been exposed to in that time.

You need to have the HbA1c test done by a healthcare professional. The HbA1c test gives your doctor or diabetes nurse a good idea of how well controlled your diabetes is. If your HbA1c is high, and stays high, it means that whatever lifestyle changes you’ve made or the medication you’re taking isn’t working as well as it should. You might need to make more lifestyle changes, or talk to your doctor or diabetes nurse about other medications you could take.

Ideas for lowering your HbA1c

Couple in Field
Gentle but regular exercise like walking

Walking improves the way your body uses glucose, helping to lower your blood glucose levels. Getting in some extra walking on as many days as you can is one of your best bets for helping yourself get control of your blood glucose.

Get in the medication habit

If you’ve been prescribed medications that aim to lower your blood glucose, one of the simplest ways of lowering your HbA1c is to get into the habit of taking those medications every day. It might help to understand a bit more about WHY you’ve been prescribed those diabetes medicines and exactly HOW they help you: our guide “Inside diabetes treatments” explains a bit more about it.

Some people don’t like to take tablets – especially for long-term conditions like Type 2 diabetes. For some, it’s the worry of possible side effects. Others don’t like to have “drugs” in their body. You might even think that you don’t need your tablets unless you’re actually feeling ill. It might be worth talking to a healthcare professional such as your diabetes nurse if you have concerns like these – they’ll be best placed to give you advice that’s tailored for you, your blood glucose levels and your general health.

Eat right for life

One solitary carrot isn’t going to do much for your health. The trick to using healthy eating as part of your diabetes plan is to keep it up. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean existing on rabbit food and never allowing an ice-cream past your lips for evermore – rather, it’s about having a good, balanced diet most of the time. You don’t need a special “diabetes diet” – have a look at some of the articles on this site for some ideas about making positive permanent changes to the way you eat. Who knows – you might even enjoy it.

Keep track

It’s an old saying, but still true: “What gets measured gets done”. Making note of your HbA1c and making lifestyle changes with your HbA1c in mind can help you stay focused on your health goals. You might be advised by your doctor or specialist diabetes nurse to have a blood glucose meter to use at home. Your diabetes care team will be able to give you the best advice on whether home glucose testing is right for you. Testing at home can give you more up-to-the-minute information about your blood glucose level than your HbA1c , but it doesn’t suit everyone. Talk it over at your next medical appointment if you’re interested in finding out more about home glucose testing, and have a look at our guide below:

Monitoring blood glucose

Monitoring your blood glucose level at home: questions to ask yourself

Do I need a blood glucose meter?

People with Type 1 diabetes need to test their blood glucose levels regularly – sometimes several times a day. In Type 2 diabetes it’s not needed quite as often. Your doctor or diabetes specialist nurse might recommend that you have a blood glucose meter (or BGM), in which case it’s a good idea to follow their advice and get one. On the other hand, many people with Type 2 diabetes don’t necessarily need a BGM and can manage their diabetes quite happily without one.

Do I want to measure my blood glucose?

Unless your doctor or diabetes specialist nurse tell you that you really should or shouldn’t have a blood glucose meter, it is up to you whether you get one or not. Either way, any decision you make about it should really be discussed with your diabetes care team – they can provide further guidance and help you make the right choice for you.

What are the disadvantages of monitoring my blood glucose?

Some people find that testing their blood glucose level at home can make them more anxious about their diabetes, as it’s always at the forefront of their minds. It can also ruin your day if you get a reading you didn’t want, and can lead to you testing TOO much and becoming obsessive. On top of that, if you’re not sure how to use or act on the information that testing gives you, it can make you feel LESS empowered, not more.

What are the advantages of monitoring my blood glucose?

Other people find that testing with a meter gives them a sense of control over their diabetes. It can help you work out whether any lifestyle changes you’ve made are working for you. It can also help you and your healthcare team see if the medication you’re being prescribed is effective, as well as helping you identify episodes of high and low blood glucose that might affect your ability to do something like work, drive, or operate machinery.

Can I handle testing my blood glucose?

What puts some people off testing their blood glucose is the “blood” bit. There’s no getting around it: it does involve pricking your finger and although it’s not something most people find particularly painful, it can still be uncomfortable – especially if you do it a lot. And that’s not to mention fear of needles, which is a very common phobia. Most people are soon able to handle the finger pricking, though – it’s one of those things that is often worse to think about than to do!

What’s the best blood glucose meter for me?

There are lots of meters on the market, and your diabetes specialist nurse will probably know all about them and be able to help you make a choice that suits you. Things to consider might include:

  • What it looks like
  • How fast and accurate it is
  • How easily you can get hold of the test strips or replacement batteries etc.
  • How much the test strips will cost (if you pay for them)
  • How easily the results can be read (e.g. large display, non-glare screen, backlight etc.)
  • How much blood the meter needs to get an accurate reading
  • How big or small it is, and how it will fit into your life
  • If it comes with software or a memory function – and whether you need that or not
  • How expensive will a blood glucose meter be?
Can you afford it?

Unless you get a free meter and your test strips on prescription, you may have to pay for all the bits you need. If you’re testing a lot, this can soon add up. Some are reasonably basic and inexpensive for the meter itself, but bear in mind that you will also need to have needles for finger pricking, the test strips, batteries for the meter, a carry case for the kit, and somewhere safe to put the used needles. Talk to your GP or diabetes specialist nurse if you really want a blood glucose meter, as they can advise you on your specific needs and what you may be entitled to.

In the UK currently, if you have diabetes and take medication for it (tablets or injections), your prescriptions should all be free, as long as you have an up-to-date “medical exemption certificate”. Ask your pharmacist or GP surgery about how to get one of these certificates, if you don’t have one already.

Inside diabetes treatments
Doing something great for yourself
Getting started – and starting again