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Testing blood sugar or glucose levels is an important and regular part of managing diabetes and your overall health. A variety of tools and products on the market can help you know when your blood sugar is too high, too low, or just right!
Glucose testing requires some basic tools: test strips, glucose monitors, lancets, and a lancing device. Glucose monitors often come with a lancing device, making a separate purchase unnecessary. When purchasing separately, be sure to choose test strips and a monitor that are compatible with each other.
What they are:Blood glucose monitors, or meters, are devices the size of a cell phone or smaller used to monitor your blood glucose levels. They are typically used with lancets, for drawing blood, and test strips, on which you place the blood sample to get a reading.
Why to buy: Keeping track of your blood sugar is essential for staying healthy and avoiding diabetes complications. Look for kits that can hold your monitor, test strips, and lancets all in one place for easy access. Some glucose monitors provide more information than just your blood glucose level. The more advanced meters offer graphs and the ability to save results, and some allow you to download results to your computer.
Things to consider: Some meters allow you to use blood from places other than your fingertip (often called "alternate site testing), and some have a large display screen or spoken instructions for people with visual impairments. Some meters require smaller amounts of blood to achieve an accurate reading, resulting in a less painful finger prick. Look at the manufacturer instructions to determine whether the blood glucose meter needs regular cleaning or other maintenance. Also note the type of batteries required and their cost.
What they are: Glucose test strips contain chemicals that react with glucose to read your blood sugar levels. Typically, after inserting a test strip into the monitor, you apply a drop of blood and get results in a few seconds. Newer glucose meters and corresponding test strips require just a small amount of blood—ranging from 0.3 to 1.5 microliters.
Why to buy: Test strips are a quick and easy way to check your blood sugar levels at home or on the go. Some glucose meters allow you to insert multiple test strips at one time and dispense as needed, while others require a new test strip each time. Make sure your glucose monitor is set up for the test strips you’re using so you get accurate results (“self-coding” glucose meters ensure accuracy by reading the code from the test strip each time).
Things to consider: Keep plenty of strips on hand since each test strip is used only once and then discarded. Make sure you check expiration dates since expired test strips are not reliable. Test strips are often the most expensive part of monitoring blood sugar, so keep in mind the cost of compatible strips when choosing your glucose monitor.
What they are:Lancets are disposable pins used to prick the finger in order to draw blood samples for use with glucose test strips. The gauge of the lancet refers to the width of the metal point. And while it may seem backwards, the higher the number, the smaller the lancet. For safety and accuracy, lancets should be applied with a lancing device (sometimes called a pen), which is a reusable instrument with a spring mechanism to help the lancet quickly and painlessly puncture the finger (or alternative site) for the blood sample.
Why to buy: Lancing devices allow you to adjust how deep the lancet penetrates, depending on the sensitivity and thickness of your skin. For safety, most lancing devices conceal the needle before and after use. Some make the lancet inoperable once it has been used, which is an extra safety feature to prevent painful reuse of the lancet, or accidental use by a child.
Things to consider: Usually a higher-gauge lancet is less painful to use, but keep in mind it may be harder to get an adequate blood sample. It is imperative for health and safety reasons that lancets be used only once. Remember that lancets are an ongoing expense, so be sure to stock up.
What they are: Glucose tablets dissolve quickly to supply the body with fast-acting carbs (glucose) and help recover from a blood sugar low. Glucose tablets come in an assortment of flavors and many taste similar to a Sweet Tart or Smartie.
Why to buy: Nearly every person who is taking medication for diabetes sometimes experiences drops in blood sugar that need to be treated immediately. Glucose tablets are one of the quickest, easiest ways to raise blood sugar levels when they are too low. And compared with candy or juice, you’ll feel better almost instantly because glucose raises your blood sugar faster than fructose or table sugar (sucrose).
Things to consider: Read the package label to see how many grams of carbohydrates are in each glucose tablet, so you know exactly what you’re getting. The average is 4 to 5 grams of glucose per tablet; experts recommend 15 to 20 grams to help correct a blood sugar low. Keep some on hand in your purse, bag, car, and desk so they’re easily accessible when you need them.