By Enrico Cagliero, MD
MGH Diabetes Center
When beginning their Diabetes treatment plan, patients and their families often find themselves learning a new set of vocabulary words and medical terms. Understanding what these words mean and the role they play in their care plan is an important tool to enable patients to manage their Diabetes. A good example is postprandial glucose.
“Postprandial” means after meal and “glucose’ is, of course, sugar. Put together, postprandial glucose refers to the level of glucose in the blood after a meal.
Blood glucose levels vary throughout the day and go up after we eat. For a non-Diabetic person, their blood glucose levels are around 80-130 or 140 mg/dl, but don’t go much higher because their bodies produce insulin to control blood sugar. For a people with Diabetes, who either don’t produce or have difficulty responding to insulin, their blood glucose levels can go much higher, say in the 200-300 mg/dl range after a meal. People who only test their blood sugars in the morning before they’ve eaten anything (fasting glucose) miss this fluctuation.
How does postprandial glucose fit into Diabetes care? It’s mostly important for our Type 1 patients since they’re most likely using a type of fast acting insulin before a meal; the postprandial reading lets us check what happens after eating. We also adjust medication and insulin doses for some patients, for instance women who are pregnant, based on the postprandial glucose readings. Finally, for our Type 2 patients taking multiple insulin injections, we want to make sure the insulin dose is enough to cover their meals.
Having said all that, Diabetes management plans are not one-size-fits-all. They vary from patient to patient and individualized to meet each patient’s specific needs.