The biggest goal of any diabetes treatment plan is to keep blood sugar levels within your target range as much as possible. That can be difficult because blood glucose changes from hour to hour. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to keeping blood sugar within a healthy range, understanding the factors that affect blood glucose levels can help you make choices that minimize glucose fluctuation.
4 Major Factors That Affect Blood Glucose Levels
Once you discuss your target glucose range with your healthcare team, knowing the factors that affect blood glucose levels can help you stay on track. The four most impactful factors are the following:
1. Food and Beverages
After you eat, your body breaks down food into sugars to provide fuel to your cells, which temporarily raises your blood glucose. This is why your healthcare team will typically advise that you wait a certain amount of time after eating before checking your blood sugar. While an increase is normal and expected, large meals and foods rich in carbohydrates can cause glucose levels to spike beyond your target range. On the flip side, not eating enough, missing meals, or not eating enough carbohydrates can cause blood glucose to fall and put you at risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Beverages also can affect blood glucose levels in several ways. For example, not drinking enough water can increase blood sugar because having less water in the body concentrates the glucose in your bloodstream. Beverages that contain carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars, including fruit juices, regular sodas, and milk, can increase blood glucose levels fast.
Alcohol consumption on an empty stomach can lower blood sugar and increase the risk of hypoglycemia. A rule to always follow is to have some carbohydrates when you are drinking alcohol.
2. Physical Activity
Lack of general physical activity can cause blood sugar levels to rise, which is why exercise is often a key part of diabetes management. On the flip side, physical activity makes your body more sensitive to insulin and causes your muscles to use glucose for energy. Strenuous or prolonged physical activity without proper preparation can cause blood sugar to drop to hypoglycemic levels. It’s all about balancing the insulin dose with the available carbohydrates and the amount and type of exercise.
Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting a fitness routine, talk with your healthcare team to determine what level of physical activity is appropriate for you and how to stay active safely.
Medication is one of the most important factors that affect blood glucose levels. Whether you use insulin or take oral medication for diabetes, taking the right dose and taking it at the correct time are critical. Inadequate dosing of some medications can result in high blood sugar, while doses that are too high or too frequent may cause blood sugar to plummet.
Always talk to your healthcare team about how much insulin or oral medication you need and how often to take it. If your current medication isn’t helping your blood sugar levels stay in your target range, your treatment plan may need to be adjusted. Additionally, some medications not intended to help manage diabetes can dramatically affect blood glucose. For example, oral steroids like prednisone can significantly increase blood sugar.
4. Illness and Stress
Illness and other stressors can have a profound impact on blood glucose. When you’re experiencing emotional stress or physical stress due to illness, your body releases stress hormones. These hormones can raise your blood sugar and increase the amount of insulin your body needs. Your healthcare team can help you create a game plan for managing or preventing blood sugar spikes when you’re stressed or sick.
Finding Patterns to Manage Your Diabetes
While these are the four big factors, there are many other things that can affect your blood sugar. Knowing what factors affect blood glucose levels in general is the first step to better diabetes management. Knowing how these factors affect you requires tracking your blood glucose trends and identifying patterns. A simple blood glucose monitoring app makes it easy.
The Patterns® for POGO Automatic® app syncs with the POGO Automatic Monitor to log your blood glucose results. It also integrates with popular wellness devices and health apps and gives you a more convenient way to track variables such as carbohydrate intake, mood, medication, and hydration. By presenting information via user-friendly visuals and custom reports, Patterns helps you and your healthcare team see how different variables affect your blood sugar levels and empowers you to make meaningful changes.
Paying attention to the factors that affect your blood glucose allows you and your healthcare team to more fully understand the impact of treatment and brings you closer to your health goals.
Jaclyn Owens is a product director specializing in diabetes management tools. She is committed to using technology to empower people with diabetes and help them take control of their health.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.