Diabetes by the Numbers
Red light, green light...yellow light?
By Wil Dubois
Diabetes is a disease of digits and decimals and denominators and divisors. In short, a disease of numbers. There are a ton of numbers to keep track of, pay attention to, and shoot for. Some you need to worry about daily, others quarterly, still others only annually.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "I suck at math. I'll never be able to do this." But you're wrong: we live our lives in a sea of math without even recognizing it. Really, diabetes math is no more difficult than driving to the store for groceries. So as we're going for a "drive," let's talk about traffic lights, shall we?
A green light means "go." Or that it's safe to "go." Right? A yellow light means go really-really-really fast...What? Oh sorry. Now I'm told a yellow means "caution." Be careful. Danger could be coming. And of course red lights mean "stop" or "danger."
All of our diabetes numbers can be viewed as traffic lights. They tell us when we're good to go (safe), when we're approaching danger, and when we're in danger. And if you'll forgive me for a little more word play, keeping our numbers in the green pays back big dividends in the long run — in terms of being healthy and happy for a long, long time.
The traffic lights on our diabetes journey are at the cross streets of Blood Sugar Way, Blood Pressure Lane, Cholesterol Street, Body Mass Index Avenue, and Microalbumin Boulevard.
(Note: There's not 100% agreement among doctors' organizations on target numbers for diabetes, and your doctor may choose a different target for you based on your overall health and other conditions.)
First on deck, as we're talking diabetes, we should talk about blood sugar numbers. There are two different ways of measuring blood sugar. We can always check out our current blood sugar level night and day, 24-7/365, by just whipping out our little meters and doing a fingerstick test. Lots of folks complain about having to "poke their finger," but I'm thrilled that I can poke my finger. Can you name any other afflictions that allow you to check in so easily on how you are doing? The second way we look at blood sugar is a test run by your healthcare team called the A1C test. The A1C test gives us a picture of our average blood sugar over the last three months. Fingersticks give us the hour-to-hour or day-to-day picture of our diabetes control; the A1C gives us the big picture of how we are doing over time and if we are stable, getting better, or (yikes!) getting worse.
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I had a work dinner last night with some leadership from my office. I always find diabetes etiquette at these things to be kind of tricky. It was a four course meal, with salad, soup, entree' and dessert and coffee. There was also a selection of gluten free and non-gluten free dinner rolls. I felt way too full of questions for waitress... "Could I get my dressing on the side? How much sugar is in it?" A course later...