Diabetes affects your body's ability to use sugar to make energy. This happens when your pancreas is unable to make the right amounts of insulin to help process sugar or when your body is not able to properly use insulin. The sugar stays in your bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to increase.
If blood sugars are poorly controlled, both short-term and long-term complications can develop. Short-term complications may include dizziness, fatigue, frequent urination, increased hunger or thirst, and even loss of consciousness. Long-term complications include heart, kidney, eye, and nerve damage. In some cases, people need to have their feet or legs amputated due to poor circulation.
There are two main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 (formerly called insulin-dependent) diabetes. Your pancreas makes very little or no insulin. You'll need regular injections of replacement insulin.
- Type 2 (formerly called non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. Your body doesn't manufacture enough insulin or has trouble using it. This type, which affects 90% of people with diabetes, can be controlled with diet and medication (pills or insulin injections).
Trying to keep blood sugar levels under control requires frequent monitoring, so home testing kits are particularly helpful. Home testing allows you to control your diabetes, instead of it controlling you. It also allows you to see how certain foods and activities affect your blood sugar level.
Most blood sugar testing kits consist of a blood sugar monitor and test strips. Put a drop of your blood on the strip and stick it in the meter. The meter gives you a reading of your blood sugar level, usually in under a minute. Some brands of meters store your readings and provide averages. Models are also available that download results to a personal computer diary that includes the times of your readings and when you last ate.
How often should you test your blood sugar? The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends the following:
- for individuals using insulin more than once a day: at least as often as insulin is being used
- for individuals being treated with oral anti-diabetic medications or lifestyle changes only: discuss with your doctor how often you should be testing
Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend a different testing schedule. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how often you should be monitoring your blood sugar, and what your results mean.
People with diabetes may be at risk for ketoacidosis, a medical emergency that can lead to coma or death. This happens when the body can't use blood sugar for energy because of a lack of insulin. Fat is broken down for energy instead of sugar, and this leads to a buildup of by-products of fat called ketones. Ketones can be measured by passing urine onto a test strip. If there is a colour change, it can be matched up with a colour on the colour chart in order to determine the levels of ketones in your urine. People who may be at risk for ketoacidosis include those who have very high blood sugar levels and those who are sick. Talk to your doctor to determine if you should be testing your ketone levels.
It's all in the timing
Thinking of having a baby? You may consider a home ovulation test kit. These kits can be a useful tool to pinpoint the best time to conceive a child.
A woman's most fertile time is about 14 days before her period. This is when her pituitary gland steps up production of luteinizing hormone (LH). Within a day or two, her ovary releases an egg and ovulation begins. Having intercourse at this time greatly increases the chances of getting pregnant. But women still need to know when they're about to ovulate.
So how is this done? Home test kits detect the surge of LH before ovulation by measuring the LH contained in urine. Collect your urine and put it on the test strip as instructed in the package directions. After the period of time specified in the directions, compare the colour of the test stick against the chart in the kit. If it stays white, there's very little LH in your urine. This means that you're not about to ovulate, so the chances of getting pregnant are lower. If the test strip turns a colour, your urine contains a greater amount of LH. The darker the colour, the more LH there is.
It's important to do the test every day in the 10 days around ovulation. The day you start testing depends on the normal length of your menstrual cycle. If your cycle typically runs 28 days, start testing on day 10 and keep testing until day 20. Your test sticks should become a gradually darker colour until they match up with an indicator provided in the kit. This means that LH production has begun and ovulation will start within the next 2 days.
Some test kits, also called fertility monitors, contain software that helps you track your fertility more precisely. With these kits, you insert the test strip into a monitor that displays your results.
You should test every day at the same time to get the best results. Some tests recommend using the first morning urine, whereas others may be done at any time of day. You may get a false positive reading showing high levels of LH, even though you're not about to ovulate. This usually happens because of medications you might be taking, or because of health problems (like ovarian cysts). If you see no sign of LH, or get odd results, talk to your doctor about it.
Putting the cuffs on hypertension
Have you been tested for high blood pressure? Your doctor may put a cuff on your arm as part of a routine check-up to test your blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is caused by blood pushing too hard against the walls of your blood vessels, and it can be a serious medical condition. If your blood pressure levels are above normal, you might be at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
Your doctor can test your blood pressure levels at a clinic or hospital, but you can also test your blood pressure yourself. Measuring your blood pressure at home is helpful for two reasons. First, some people get higher-than-usual blood pressure readings at the doctor's office, usually because they are a bit nervous. Second, people with hypertension need to monitor their blood pressure regularly. Blood pressure normally changes daily, rising during activity and falling during sleep. The best way to get good readings is to check yourself at the same time of day.
You should also take occasional readings at different times during the day and evening. This can help you determine the effects and effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Ask your doctor how often you should monitor your blood pressure.
If you test your blood pressure at home, you have three types of home monitors to choose from:
- The manual inflation device. Wrap the cuff around your arm and use a pump to inflate it.
- The automatic inflation device. Push a button to inflate the cuff. It then deflates at the rate needed for an accurate test.
- The wrist cuff. Wrap the cuff around your wrist and push a button to inflate the cuff. These types of monitors are not usually recommended because it's more difficult to get an accurate reading.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether home monitoring is a good idea for you and which type of monitor would best suit your needs.
Most home monitors give extremely accurate readings. The monitor will show systolic and diastolic blood pressure, for instance 120/80. Systolic, the higher number (e.g., 120 in 120/80), refers to the measurement taken when your blood surges from your heart pushing it out (the main "thump" part of the heartbeat). Diastolic, the lower number (e.g., 80 in 120/80), refers to when your blood is being pulled back towards the heart by the heart expanding (the off-beat of the heartbeat).
Most home monitors also show a reading on your heart rate or pulse (how many times a minute your heart is beating). Normal rates vary between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Many monitors have a tiny computer in them that lets you compare a reading with previous ones. Make sure you get a cuff size that fits well. If it's too small or big, it may give false readings.
For most people, the blood pressure target is usually less than 140/90 taken at the doctor's office or less than 135/85 taken at home. For people with diabetes, the target is less than 130/80. Depending on your medical conditions, your doctor may recommend different blood pressure targets. Talk to your doctor to find out what your targets should be.
The skinny on cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-based substance found in the bloodstream and the body's cells. Cholesterol is essential for good health: it builds and repairs cells, protects nerve fibres, and is used to produce certain hormones and bile acids. We get it in two ways: the liver produces it, and it is contained in some of the foods we eat, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. A healthy daily intake of cholesterol is about the amount found in a single egg. Most of us take in more than that, which is where problems can begin.
When cholesterol moves through our blood, it joins up with proteins to make molecules known as lipoproteins. "Bad" cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins (LDL), can build up on the walls of blood vessels, where it blocks and damages arteries. This can eventually cause heart disease and stroke. But there's also "good" cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which clear away the dangerous type of cholesterol.
Although LDL is the one to worry about, getting accurate readings of both kinds is essential. High levels of "bad" cholesterol and low levels of "good" cholesterol mean you could be at risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol but are another type of fat found in the body. Like LDL, high triglycerides are associated with heart disease. Triglyceride levels are often measured at the same time as cholesterol levels.
Many factors determine whether your LDL-cholesterol is high or low, including:
- level of physical activity
- age (cholesterol levels rise with age)
- sex (men have higher cholesterol)
- alcohol consumption
- some medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, liver disease, and kidney disease
To help lower cholesterol levels:
- enjoy a diet high in whole-grain foods, vegetables, fruits, and legumes
- replace saturated fats (found in meat, full-fat dairy products, shortening, and tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil) with monounsaturated fats (found in olives, olive oil, nuts, and avocado) and polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, fish, and wheat germ)
- drink alcohol in moderation (no more than 3 drinks per day, up to a maximum of 15 drinks per week for men and no more than 2 drinks per day up to a maximum of 10 drinks per week for women)
- enjoy regular physical activity (such as walking, swimming, biking, or gardening)
- don't smoke
- maintain a healthy body weight
- take cholesterol medications (if necessary) as prescribed by your doctor
You can help monitor your blood cholesterol levels with a home testing kit. These kits require only a single pinprick of blood to test total cholesterol levels. The test is accurate and measures your total cholesterol levels. Some kits may also measure HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels. Talk to your doctor to find out what your targets should be. You can use the test anytime, except if you've had the flu or some other minor health problem within the last month. Be aware that if you've had major surgery or a heart attack within the last 3 months, the test won't work.
Your doctor may have provided your cholesterol readings as a ratio of total cholesterol to HDL. Contact your doctor if you're concerned about your results or have questions about managing your cholesterol.