A glucose meter, also called a glucometer, plays a vital role in helping you to manage diabetes. As a prediabetic or type 2 diabetic, you need to keep track of your blood sugar levels daily.
Monitoring blood glucose is important to help prevent too high or too low blood sugar symptoms. Foods, medications, stress, and exercise can spike or lower blood sugar. But once you have a glucometer in your arsenal, you will be able to keep blood sugar at the level your doctor recommends.
However, with so many of these devices on sale, choosing the right one that suits all your needs can be tricky.
Each type has its own unique features and while a certain model may be suitable for others it may not be for you. Price and other factors such as insurance coverage can also influence the type and brand you choose.
Here are some important things you should know including how to choose a blood glucose meter, types and benefits, how and when to test, and factors that affect accurate readings.
What is a blood glucose meter?
A blood glucose meter is a small device that you can use at home to test your blood to find out the amount of glucose in the blood.
Glucose is a type of sugar found in the foods you eat. The body removes it from the bloodstream and uses it for energy.
Diabetes is a disease that prevents the body from removing the glucose as quickly as it should. This leads to a buildup that causes the sugar level in the blood to rise.
With this device, you can better manage the rise and fall of blood sugar.
How to test blood sugar
To test your blood sugar, you’ll need glucose testing strips to collect the blood sample. The meter may come with a supply of strips or you may have to buy them.
The gold standard for drawing blood is to prick the finger with a lancet to get a drop of blood onto the disposable testing strip.
Stick the strip into the device as directed and wait for the meter to provide a reading that indicates how much glucose is in the blood. The chemicals in the test strip react with glucose in the sample to produce a reading.
You may need to test several times a day depending on your doctor’s advice and your diet or activities throughout the day.
To use your meter correctly, ensure you read the manual supplied with the device. It should also tell you which type or brand of testing strips are required.
You can also ask your doctor or local pharmacist to show you how to use it or call the manufacturer’s customer service number for more information.
Testing your glucose from other sites
To reduce the “ouch” of pricking the finger, some modern devices allow you to prick other areas of the body. Such as the palm or thigh.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls it alternative site testing (AST). However, the FDA warns that results may not be as accurate as the fingertip samples, especially when your blood glucose may be rapidly changing.
Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) advises that you stick to fingertip testing particularly when:
- You’re ill or under stress
- You just took insulin
- You just ate
- You just exercised
- You suspect your blood sugar is low
- The results do not match how you feel
- You’re not aware of your low blood sugar symptoms
Types of glucometers
There are many types of blood glucose monitoring devices on the market. Some are more advanced, work with electricity, and have various features. Others are basic and battery operated.
For example, there are meters that measure the amount of light the test strip reflects. Others measure how much electricity passes through the testing strip.
Meters sold in the U.S. typically tell you the mg/dl of the sample. In other words, how much milligrams of glucose is contained in the sample per deciliter of blood.
Here is a list of common types of glucose meters and how they work:
Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose (SMBG)
These are your standard traditional monitors. All you do is apply a blood sample to a test strip then wait for the results.
The device will detect the glucose in the blood and measure the amount within seconds. They are readily available for purchase and may be bought over-the-counter.
Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)
These allow you to measure blood sugar using a sensor that is placed under the skin. They send the readings to a small device worn on the body.
An alarm will go off to let you know if your blood sugar is too low or too high.
New technology allows some CGMs to carry an insulin dosing system that automatically releases insulin from a pump when the monitor senses a rise in blood sugar.
However, CGMs are expensive and the sensors have to be replaced about once a week. You also still need to use a traditional monitor to check blood sugar and confirm readings.
Alternative Site Monitors (ASM)
These monitors let you take a blood sample from your arm, palm, or thigh.
Although testing from these alternative sites is less painful than pricking your finger, the results are not as accurate.
Noninvasive Glucose Meters
People who are prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes dream of the day they won’t have to prick the skin to draw blood samples or purchase test strips.
Out with the “ouch” and in with a non-invasive glucose meter. The idea behind this advanced model is to test glucose levels using low-power radio waves to sense the amount of glucose in the blood.
There are some designs of these meters out there but the technology is still being developed.
These meters are not currently available for sale in the US.
Benefits of having a glucose monitoring device
A blood glucose reading of between 100 mg/dL and 140 mg/dL is considered normal for an adult without diabetes. This is according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Normal means around 100 mg/dL before meals or when fasting and no more than 140 mg/dL two hours after a meal. Your primary care provider will let you know what blood glucose levels are normal for you.
Keeping track of your blood sugar helps you to take action to lower or elevate it back to the desired level recommended by your doctor. The details provided in your daily readings can guide you in making lifestyle adjustments to maintain your health and prevent health complications.
You may have to change your diet, start exercising or adjust your exercise routine.
Your doctor may use the charted readings to adjust your treatment plan or change your medication. Be sure to follow your doctor’s orders on how to treat high or low glucose levels.
How to choose a blood glucose meter
Whether you have diabetes or are at risk of getting the disease, you need to know how to choose a blood glucose meter to ensure you’re getting one to match your needs.
Here is a list of things to consider when shopping for your device:
- Meter cost
- Cost of test strips and lancets
- Size and accuracy
- Testing speed
- Testing site options
- How easy it is to use
- Manual or automatic (e.g., for entering user code)
- Electric or battery operated
- Special features and functions (voice features for example)
- How painful the procedure is
- Amount of blood needed when testing
Some meters work with only certain testing strips that are compatible with the device.
So you’ll probably want to ensure it will be easy to find and purchase the strips when needed.
Also check to see whether the device manufacturer offers customer support in case it malfunctions or you have questions on how to use it.
In terms of the features, you may prefer a device that automatically reads the test strip code so you won’t have to enter it manually.
An electronic device may also be easier to use and you won’t have to replace the batteries.
Some meters use advanced technology that allows you to do a variety of things. Like, connect to an app that has features to set goals and track blood glucose patterns on charts and graphs. Or can test blood ketones or blood pressure.
They may also perform one or more of these functions:
- Display a light for easy reading
- Speak or display the instructions and results
- Automatically time the test
- Display error codes
- Store test results for future access
- Connect to and transfer data to a smartphone or computer
- Bluetooth ability
Paying for Your Blood Glucose Monitor
The price for blood glucose meters, test strips, and lancets varies.
While having a device with these great features make it easy for you, it may all come down to what you or your insurance provider can afford to pay for it.
Before deciding on which type to buy, it wouldn’t hurt to check with your insurance company first.
You can ask for details on what brands or models patients can buy and the maximum cost they cover.
Are glucose monitors and meters 100% accurate?
Getting accurate test results is vital for the health of people living with diabetes.
This factor is an important one to consider alongside the cost. While home test meters allow you to test at your convenience, lab tests are more accurate.
This is because various conditions and external factors can affect readings.
FDA-approved home test blood glucose meters are recommended to provide:
- readings that are within 20% of lab results 99% of the time
- readings that are within 15% of lab results 95% of the time
This may make you feel more at ease about getting the most accurate results.
However, the recommendations apply only to over-the-counter self-monitoring of blood glucose test systems made and approved by the FDA after 2016.
What Factors Affect Accuracy?
- The quality of your meter
- Number of red blood cells in the sample
- Whether you are anemic or dehydrated
- Quality of test strips (The FDA warns against using preowned strips)
- How well you follow the testing instructions
- Altitude, temperature, and humidity
- Meter and test strips handling and storage
What are the best blood glucose meters?
Getting the best blood glucose meter can make a huge difference in helping you manage this disease.
A 2018 report published by Consumer Reports lists these five as the best meters on the market —
- Bayer Contour Next Blood Glucose Meter
- FreeStyle Lite Blood Glucose Meter
- Accu-Chek Aviva Plus Blood Glucose Meter
- FreeStyle Lite Freedom Blood Glucose Meter
- Tru Metrix Blood Glucose Meter
Getting a glucose meter to test your blood sugar at home can make life a lot easier for you.
No frequent trips to your doctor’s office or the lab. You can purchase the device online or at the local pharmacy.
But there are plenty of models and brands to choose from. They each have unique features and cost varies.
If you’re still not sure how to choose the right blood glucose meter, you can ask your doctor to help you. He or she can tell you which one is best for you based on your overall health needs.