What is blood sugar self-monitoring?

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Home blood sugar testing: Overview

A home blood sugar test measures the amount of a type of sugar, called glucose, in your blood at the time of testing. The test can be done at home or anywhere, using a small portable machine called a blood glucose meter.

Home blood sugar testing can be used to monitor your blood sugar levels. Talk with your doctor about how often to check your blood sugar. How often you need to check it depends on your diabetes treatment, how well your diabetes is controlled, and your overall health. People who take insulin to control their diabetes may need to check their blood sugar level often. Testing blood sugar at home is often called home blood sugar monitoring or self-testing.

If you use insulin rarely or don't use it at all, blood sugar testing can be very helpful in learning how your body reacts to foods, illness, stress, exercise, medicines, and other activities. Testing before and after eating can help you adjust what you eat.

Some types of glucose meters can store hundreds of glucose readings. This allows you to review collected glucose readings over time and to predict glucose levels at certain times of the day. It also allows you to quickly spot any major changes in your glucose levels. Some of these systems also allow information to be saved to a computer so that it can be turned into a graph or another easily analyzed form.

Some newer models of home glucose meters can communicate with insulin pumps. Insulin pumps are machines that deliver insulin through the day. The meter helps to decide how much insulin you need to keep your blood sugar level in your target range.

Home blood sugar test

A person with diabetes uses a home blood sugar (glucose) test to measure the level of glucose in their blood. The test can be done on a daily basis at home or anywhere, using a small portable machine (blood glucose meter).

A home blood sugar test involves pricking the skin (usually the side of a finger) with a small needle (lancet) to collect a drop of blood and placing the blood on a special test strip, which is checked by a blood glucose meter. The blood glucose meter gives the results of a blood sugar test right away. The results are fairly accurate for the level of glucose in the blood at the time that the test is done.

Testing blood sugar at home is often called home blood sugar monitoring or self-testing.

How do you check your blood sugar?

Checking your blood sugar involves pricking your finger, palm, or forearm with a lancet to collect a drop of blood. The blood drop is placed on a test strip, which you insert into the blood glucose meter. The instructions for testing are slightly different for each blood glucose meter model. Follow the instructions that came with your meter.

  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Dry them well with a clean towel. You may also use an alcohol wipe to clean your finger or other site. But make sure your hands are dry before the test.
  • Insert a clean lancet into the lancet device.
  • Remove a test strip from the test strip bottle. Replace the lid right away to keep moisture away from the other strips.
  • Follow the instructions that came with your meter to get it ready.
  • Use the lancet device to stick the side of your fingertip with the lancet. Do not stick the tip of your finger. Some blood sugar meters use lancet devices that take the blood sample from other sites, such as the palm of the hand or the forearm. But the finger is usually the most accurate place to test blood sugar.
  • Put a drop of blood on the correct spot on the test strip.
  • Apply pressure with a clean cotton ball to stop the bleeding.
  • Follow the directions that came with the meter to get the results.
  • Write down the results and the time that you tested your blood. Some meters will store the results for you.

Diabetes: How Testing Helps You Stay In Your Range

How long does a home blood sugar test take?

The blood glucose meter will show the results of the test in a minute or less.

What should you know about blood sugar levels and exercise?

Exercise can affect your blood sugar levels. Ask your doctor if your diabetes medicine affects your blood sugar. Also ask how often you need to check your blood sugar when you exercise.

What supplies will you need for checking your blood sugar?

The supplies you will need for testing blood sugar include:

  • A blood glucose meter.
  • Testing strips. These are made to be used with a specific model of meter. Make sure the strips haven't expired.
  • Sugar control solutions. Some meters require a specific solution. Many new meters are made to operate without a control solution.
  • Short needles called lancets for pricking your skin.
  • A pen-sized holder for the lancet (lancet device). It positions the lancet and controls how deeply it goes into your skin.
  • Clean cotton balls. These are used to stop the bleeding from the testing site.

What are the risks of testing your blood sugar?

There is very little risk of complications from testing your blood with a home blood sugar monitor.

  • You may get an infection in your finger if you do not wash your hands before sticking your finger.
  • You may get hardened areas on your fingertips from frequent blood sugar testing. Use lotion to help soften these areas.

How to get past barriers to checking your blood sugar

Many people with diabetes start out with a plan to test their blood sugar on a planned schedule. But all kinds of things can get in the way. Life is busy. Checking levels might not seem as important over time. Testing becomes a little less regular. This happens to a lot of people.

But you can get back to testing. Here's how.

  1. Think back to when you were checking your blood sugar on schedule.

    What were some good things that you remember? Maybe you felt better about your food choices because you knew your blood sugar levels. Or maybe you felt proud of taking an active role in your care.

    Whatever the reason, think about those good things from before. They will help keep you motivated as you work through what's getting in your way today.

  2. Write down things that keep you from testing your blood sugar level.

    You might write down things like:

    • "I don't know why it's important or what to do with the numbers after I have them."
    • "I've just gotten out of the habit."
    • "I think that getting an A1c test is good enough."
    • "I'm tired of sticking myself."
    • "It's annoying to stop what I'm doing to check."
    • "It's hard to always have my supplies with me."
    • "It costs too much to do it as often as my doctor recommends."

    All of these reasons are quite common. But maybe you have other ones. So what is making it hard for you?

  3. Think about how you could make regular blood sugar checks easier.

    For example, if you have a hard time remembering to test, what could you do to help you remember? Sometimes people set reminders on their phones. Or they post a reminder note by their medicine cabinet.

    Or if cost is a problem, what could you do? Maybe you could test often enough to get information, but not so often that you can't afford it.

    What ideas come to mind for you? Try to think of many ways to get back on track. Your ideas can be big or small. There are no right or wrong answers.

    After you have a few ideas, look them over. Try one or two ideas to start. If one idea doesn't work, try another. Don't worry if it takes a few tries and a little time. At some point, you'll find the idea that works best for you.

How does testing your blood sugar feel?

Your fingertips may get sore from frequent pricking for blood sugar testing. But there are things you can do to prevent soreness. For example, prick the side of your finger, not the tip. Don't squeeze the tip of your finger. And use a different finger each time. You can also try a different meter that uses blood from somewhere other than the fingers.

What is a home blood sugar test?

A home blood sugar test measures the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood, using a small device called a blood sugar meter. It's a quick way to test your blood sugar anywhere, at any time.

Preventing sore fingers from home blood sugar testing

Frequent blood sugar testing can lead to sore fingertips. Here are some ideas to help avoid this.

  • Always prick the side of the fingertip.

    Don't prick the tip of the finger. If you do, the prick will be more painful, and you may not get enough blood to do the test accurately.

  • Don't squeeze the fingertip.

    If you have trouble getting a drop of blood large enough to cover the test area of the strip, hang the hand down below the waist. Count to 5. Then squeeze the finger starting close to the hand and moving outward to the end of the finger.

  • Use a different finger each time.

    Set a pattern for which finger you stick so that you won't use some fingers more than others. If a finger gets sore, don't use it for testing for a few days.

  • Try a different device.

    Some blood sugar meters need only a very small amount of blood.

  • Use a different lancet.

    Some lancet devices can be set to prick the skin deeply or lightly depending on the thickness of the skin and where on the body you are getting the blood.

  • Don't reuse lancets.

    Lancets get dull and can cause pain. Plus, a used lancet can carry bacteria that could make you sick. Some people reuse lancets anyway. If you do, be extra careful with handwashing each time. And use a new lancet each day to reduce the chance for bacteria growth.

What are the target blood sugar ranges when you have diabetes?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that you stay within the following blood glucose level ranges. But depending on your health, you and your doctor may set a different range for you.

For nonpregnant adults with diabetes

  • 80 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) to 130 mg/dL before a meal
  • Less than 180 mg/dL 1 to 2 hours after a meal

For adults who have diabetes and are pregnant

  • 95 mg/dL or less before breakfast
  • 120 to 140 mg/dL (or lower) 1 to 2 hours after a meal

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