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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Glucose numbers depend on test used (for 11/4/07)

October 26, 2007

My husband was diagnosed with diabetes with a blood sugar level of 180 milligrams per deciliter. A friend who has diabetes said 180 is really pre-diabetes -- a level of 200 is needed for diabetes. Why would the doctor say my husband has diabetes?

Actually, it all depends on what kind of test was used for the diagnosis. One type of test is called the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, in which patients fast and then drink a glucose-rich beverage. Two hours later, their blood is tested. If the level is 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or higher, the person has diabetes. A level between 140 and 199 mg/dl is higher than normal, and the person has a condition called pre-diabetes.

But if your husband took the Fasting Plasma Glucose Test, his blood was tested after a fast but without the high-glucose beverage. For this test, a result of 126 mg/dl or higher means he has diabetes. Levels between 100 and 125 mg/dl indicate pre-diabetes.

Currently, about 14.6 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. It's estimated that another 6.2 million have diabetes but are unaware of it, and a whopping 54 million Americans likely have pre-diabetes.

Nearly all of those diagnosed -- 90 percent or more -- have what's known as Type 2 diabetes. With Type 2, the pancreas still makes insulin, but the body can't use it properly. With Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children or young adults, the pancreas can't produce any insulin at all.

Obviously, the function of insulin is vitally important. Most of the food we eat -- carbs, protein and even fat -- can be broken down into glucose. Insulin allows your muscles and other cells and tissues to use glucose as energy. Without insulin, or if insulin isn't working properly, glucose stays in the bloodstream much too long. And that's definitely not good. It's particularly damaging to small blood vessels in the eyes, kidneys, hands, feet and nervous system. And it contributes to heart problems, especially if you also have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. Controlling blood glucose is the name of the game for anyone with diabetes.

To do that, people with diabetes need to closely monitor their blood sugar levels, especially after meals when they often spike. For Type 2 diabetes, getting regular exercise helps muscles use up glucose from the bloodstream. Losing weight -- even just 5 to 10 percent of body weight -- also helps. And, while friends can help, be sure to pay even more attention to your doctor and registered dietitian.

For more information, see the American Diabetes Association's Web site at

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: November is Diabetes Awareness Month. This column was reviewed by Martha Belury, associate professor of human nutrition for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the College of Education and Human Ecology.

Martha Filipic
Martha Belury