Blood Glucose Testing for Diabetes: How to Choose the Right Meter for You

An important part of diabetes management is regularly testing your blood glucose. With so many meters on the market, it can be challenging to sort through all the options. Here, some guidance and a video demonstration of how to use a meter.

Diabetes and Blood Glucose MetersAccording to the FDA, research shows that good glucose control using home meters leads to fewer disease complications.

If you have diabetes—regardless of whether it's type 1 or type 2—regular testing of your blood glucose levels is one of the best ways to understand your diabetes. The information you gather will help you understand how medication, food, and activity affect your blood sugar.

Your doctor may ask you to test your glucose several times a day and can use the data you collect to see patterns and adjust your treatment, if necessary. There are literally dozens of blood glucose meters (also called glucometers), test strips, and lancet options available for home use. Many of today's meters are tech-enabled, meaning the information can be downloaded onto an app on your smartphone or uploaded to your computer. Some can communicate directly with your pump or health care providers and some can save the data directly to the cloud without involving other devices.

Today's blood glucose meters are available in many sizes and shapes and have a variety of features including audio capabilities for those who are visually impaired or backlighting—handy when your surroundings are dark. Your doctor may be able to recommend meters to you but often your choice will be dictated by your insurance company.

To measure your blood glucose level most people with diabetes use a lancing device to draw a drop of blood from their finger. The blood is then absorbed by a test strip which is inserted into the meter. A few seconds later, your glucose reading will be displayed. 

How to Use a Meter

Below is a demonstration of the new iGlucose Diabetes Solution, a cellular-enabled blood gluocose meter. A chip embedded in the meter transfers the data automatically to the cloud where your health care provider can access it, with your permission. "No other technology is required—no downloading data, pairing other devices or synching technology. Real-time data is recorded in the cloud every time you test. It's simple," says Wycliffe McIntosh, CEO. "You don't even need a smartphone to use it." However, if you  have a smartphone you can set it up to received text messages of support from your healthcare team. The small meter uses a rechargeable lithium battery that lasts for about 500 tests. 

Of course, accuracy is an important consideration when assessing glucometers. The Diabetes Technology Society (DTS) recently shared results from its highly-anticipated Blood Glucose Monitor System (BGMS) Surveillance Program—a rigorous study that tested the accuracy of 18 popular, FDA-cleared blood glucose meters bought through retail outlets and tested by 1,000 people. Only six of the 18 devices met the accuracy standard established by the DTS meaning readings accurate within 15% or 15 mg/dL of the laboratory value in over 95% of trials. (Note: The iGlucose Diabetes Solution, demonstrated in the video above, was launched following this study, but also met the accuracy standard established by the DTS.)

What Should Your Number Be?

The Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes (2018), established by the American Diabetes Association, says that blood glucose levels for an adult without diabetes should be below 100 mg/dL before meals and fasting and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after meals. For people with diabetes, blood glucose levels should be less than 130 mg/dL before meals and below 180 mg/dL 1 to 2 hours after the beginning of the meal. This is called the postprandial measure. 

Factors that Impact Reading Accuracy

Many variables affect meter results including basic hygiene—it's important to thoroughly clean and dry your hands before testing, how closely you follow the instructions for using your meter and test strips and the quality of the meter and test strips as well.

Use of over-the-counter medications (acetaminophen, for example) and certain supplements (vitamin C) may also interfere with glucose testing so be sure to carefully read the instructions that come with your meter and/or test strips. Altitude, temperature, and humidity can also affect results.

What Options Matter Most to You?

Diabetes Forecast publishes a blood glucose meter consumer guide every year (typically in the spring). As you shop for a blood glucose meter, make sure you consider the importance of these features, along with the price of the meter and the cost of the test strips you will use.

Digital storage: Most blood glucose meters can keep a history of your blood glucose readings. Meters with more memory can store more history.

Talks to your computer: Many people want their blood glucose meter to download readings to their computer so that they can keep a blood glucose history on there, too. Also, many physicians appreciate seeing data over a number of days or weeks so that they can spot trends.

If you’d like to do this (or if your doctor wants you to do this), make sure you understand all the technical requirements for connecting your blood glucose meter to your computer.

Blood sample size: Some blood glucose meter and test strip combinations require a sizable blood sample, while others pride themselves in only needing a scant amount.

One meter, for example, calls for 3.0 microliter sample, which is about the size of a BB pellet.

However, a number of meters can test your blood sugar using a much smaller sample—a 0.3 microliter sample. However, do not discount a meter that fits all of your other needs if it requires a little more blood for a sample.

Display font size: Larger numbers help many readers. While some people just prefer a big display, others with poor eyesight will need a large display to make blood sugar testing practical.

Backlit display: Many people want a meter that lights up in the dark. If you need to test in the dark, a backlit display makes it easier. Imagine if you needed to test while walking home one night, while traveling in a dark car or bus, during a movie, or after waking in the middle of the night with nausea or pain.

Illuminated test strip port: This also helps people who need to test in the dark. It is much easier if you have some light assistance while sliding the test strip into the glucose meter.

Meters that work at extreme temperatures: If you are a winter sports enthusiast or you spend time in cold environments, you need to make sure your blood glucose meter is designed to venture into the cold with you.

Select a glucose meter designed to perform in the cold. There are also meters that withstand higher temperatures for people who spend time in deserts, tropics, and high-temperature work environments.

Size: Some people want a portable meter that fits easily into their pocket or does not take up too much space in a purse or briefcase. However, they often have to sacrifice when it comes to screen size and other features.

When selecting a blood glucose meter, you have many options to consider.  Make sure you take into consideration the various features of different blood glucose meters and find one that best fits your lifestyle.  By selecting the right blood glucose meter for you, it’ll be easier to monitor your blood glucose levels and keep them in your target range.

Updated on: February 27, 2019
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