If you're at risk for diabetes, you may be wondering what a normal blood sugar range for women is. The answer to that question can vary, however, from test to test.
First, keep in mind that sugar (glucose) isn't the villain that some people make it out to be — it plays a crucial role in keeping your body functioning properly. Your cells require glucose for essential body functions like keeping your heart beating and your muscles pumping. You obtain glucose from the carbohydrates you eat. But when blood sugar levels are too high, it can lead to damage to both small and large blood vessels as well as nerves, which in turn can cause problems with your heart, kidneys and eyes.
Glucose (or sugar) in your blood is measured in mg/dL (or milligrams per deciliter). Two hours after eating a meal, normal blood sugar levels are less than 140 mg/dL. This is true regardless of what you've eaten.
Common Tests to Check Blood Glucose Levels
Health care providers can use a variety of laboratory tests to check blood sugar levels and determine whether a woman has diabetes. Some of these tests require fasting for 8 hours before blood is drawn. Blood glucose levels that are too high suggest insufficient insulin production, reduced insulin sensitivity or a combination of the two — and could mean that you have diabetes.
Fasting Glucose Levels
The most common test for blood sugar is the fasting plasma or blood glucose test (FBG). For an accurate reading, it is necessary to fast for at least 8 hours beforehand, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. For this test, a normal blood sugar range for women is between 70 and 99 mg/dL, the same as that for men.
A woman with a fasting blood glucose level of 100 to 125 mg/dL may have a condition known as impaired fasting glucose or prediabetes, which can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dL or greater may indicate that you have diabetes.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
Health care providers can also assess the ability of your body to metabolize sugar with an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). During this test, you'll fast for 8 hours before giving your doctor a sample of blood. Then you'll drink a sugar liquid during the next few hours, during which time your blood will be taken every 30 to 60 minutes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Results between 140 and 199 mg/dL can indicate that a woman may have prediabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. A blood glucose level above 200 mg/dL suggests that you may have diabetes. A normal result for blood glucose level for women is less than 140 mg/dL.
If you took a fasting blood glucose test and saw that your numbers were high, your doctor may recommend an A1C test, says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. An A1C test is a blood test that shows a person's average blood sugar levels over a 3-month period of time, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
"The A1C really gives you an idea of what's been going on for 24 hours a day for the last 3 months and gives you a clearer picture if a person is at a significant risk for diabetes or already has it," says Palinski-Wade. A normal A1C level is less than 5.7 percent; if your results are 5.7 to 6.4 percent, you have prediabetes; if they're 6.5 percent or higher, you may have diabetes.
When it comes to diabetes testing, one abnormal test result is not considered definitive. If any of these tests show results above the normal range for women, expect your doctor to request a second test — either a repeat of the one you already took or another of the diagnostic tests.
How Often Should You Be Screened?
Every adult woman and man over the age of 45 should be screened for diabetes every 3 years, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
If you have risk factors for diabetes, or if you have prediabetes or symptoms that indicate you may have high blood glucose — such as increased thirst, frequent urination, blurry vision or unexplained weight loss — you may want to be screened at an earlier age (or more often). Along with age, common risk factors for diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association's 2019 Standards of Care, include:
- Family history: Your risk is higher if you have a first-degree relative (like a parent, sibling or child) with diabetes.
- Race and ethnicity: African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander folks are at a higher risk of diabetes.
- Health conditions: If you have a history of cardiovascular disease or hypertension, or if you have polycystic ovary syndrome, you have a higher likelihood of a diabetes diagnosis. Low levels of HDL cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides are also a risk factor.
- Obesity: Being either overweight or obese is a risk factor for diabetes.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Type 2 Diabetes; 2011"
- American Diabetes Association: "Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Blood Sugar Test"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Glucose Tolerance Test - Non-Pregnant"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "A1C Test"