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International and "US" measures of blood sugar

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Old 11-21-2006, 05:32 PM   #1
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Location: Manitoba , Canada
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northsunm HB User
International and "US" measures of blood sugar

NOTE: I am almost positive that other countries than the US use the US units for measuring blood glucose. In any event I thought it would be helpful to post to the list this information since there are members who use both units here. It is easy to translate one measure to the other by multiplying the International unit by18 or dividing US units by 18 to get the International measure. Canada uses the international units. Some meters allow you to set to either unit. This has caused occasional problems when for example someone in the US gets a reading of 12 and thinks they must rush to the hospital for low blood sugar when it is actually a higher International reading!

What are mg/dl and mmol/l? How to convert? Glucose? Cholesterol?


There are two main methods of describing concentrations: by weight, and
by molecular count. Weights are in grams, molecular counts in moles. (If you
really want to know, a mole is 6.23*10^23 molecules.) In both cases, the unit
is usually modified by milli- or micro- or other prefix, and is always "per"
some volume, often a liter.

This means that the conversion factor depends on the molecular weight of the
substance in question.

mmol/l is millimoles/liter, and is the world standard unit for measuring
glucose in blood. Specifically, it is the designated SI (Systeme
International) unit. "World standard", of course, means that mmol/L is used
everywhere in the world except in the US. A mole is about 6*10^23 molecules;
if you want more detail, take a chemistry course.

mg/dl (milligrams/deciliter) is the traditional unit for measuring bG (blood
glucose). All scientific journals are moving quickly toward using mmol/L
exclusively. mg/dl won't disappear soon, and some journals now use mmol/L as
the primary unit but quote mg/dl in parentheses, reflecting the large base of
health care providers and researchers (not to mention patients) who are
already familiar with mg/dl.

Since m.h.d is an international newsgroup, it's polite to quote both figures
when you can. Most discussions take place using mg/dl, and no one really
expects you to pull out your calculator to compose your article. However, if
you don't quote both units, it's inevitable that many readers will have to
pull out their calculators to read it.

Many meters now have a switch that allows you to change between units.
Sometimes it's a physical switch, and sometimes it's an option that you can

To convert mmol/l of glucose to mg/dl, multiply by 18.

To convert mg/dl of glucose to mmol/l, divide by 18 or multiply by 0.055.

These factors are specific for glucose, because they depend on the mass
of one molecule (the molecular weight). The conversion factors are
different for other substances (see below).

And remember that reflectance meters have a some error margin due to
both intrinsic limitations and environmental factors, and that plasma
readings are 15% higher than whole blood (as of 2002 most meters are
calibrated to give plasma readings, thus matching lab readings, but this
is a recent development), and that capillary blood is different from
venous blood when it's changing, as after a meal. So round off to make
values easier to comprehend and don't sweat the hundredths place. For
example, 4.3 mmol/l converts to 77.4 mg/dl but should probably be quoted
as 75 or 80. Similarly, 150 mg/dl converts to 8.3333... mmol/l but 8.3
is a reasonable quote, and even just 8 would usually convey the meaning.

Actually, a table might be more useful than the raw conversion factor, since
we usually talk in approximations anyway.

mmol/l mg/dl interpretation
------ ----- --------------
2.0 35 extremely low, danger of unconciousness
3.0 55 low, marginal insulin reaction
4.0 75 slightly low, first symptoms of lethargy etc.
5.5 100 mecca
5 - 6 90-110 normal preprandial in nondiabetics
8.0 150 normal postprandial in nondiabetics
10.0 180 maximum postprandial in nondiabetics
11.0 200
15.0 270 a little high to very high depending on patient
16.5 300
20.0 360 getting up there
22 400 max mg/dl for some meters and strips
33 600 high danger of severe electrolyte imbalance

Preprandial = before meal
Postprandial = after meal

More conversions:

To convert mmol/l of HDL or LDL cholesterol to mg/dl, multiply by 39.
To convert mg/dl of HDL or LDL cholesterol to mmol/l, divide by 39.

To convert mmol/l of triglycerides to mg/dl, multiply by 89.
To convert mg/dl of triglycerides to mmol/l, divide by 89.

To convert umol (micromoles) /l of creatinine to mg/dl, divide by 88.
To convert mg/dl of creatinine to umol/l, multiply by 88.


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