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How to Measure Blood Sugar from Home Using a Glucometer

In order to test blood sugar from home, you need a small electronic device known as a Glucometer. This device reads the amount of sugar in a blood sample often from your fingertip. The blood sample is usually placed on a disposable test strip. You can ask your diabetes educator or doctor to show you how to measure blood sugar using a glucometer.

Before going to the subject directly, let us discuss in a short about the disease. Diabetes is not a single disease, and it has many sub-types. In India, more than 90% of those living with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, and less than 10% have type 1 diabetes (there are other rare types too). Though in both types of diabetes, there is a high level of blood sugar, they are very different diseases.

Understanding Type 1 Diabetes

This type of diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It is also called diabetes of young and lean. It is a more severe form of diabetes. Earlier it was called insulin-dependent diabetes, as regular insulin use is its only treatment in most cases.

In type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This means that medications would not help. Most people living with this type of diabetes would get the disease at a young age, and in many cases, even in childhood.

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

When people talk about sugar, blood sugar, diabetes, they usually mean type 2 diabetes. Most cases of this type of diabetes get diagnosed in adult age. It is a lifestyle disease and thus preventable too.

Type 2 diabetes starts due to years of neglect, wrong dietary, and lifestyle choices. This slowly leads to insulin resistance. This means that though the body is producing enough insulin, but, body cells stop responding to it. This initially leads to high insulin production (compensatory phase), and finally leads to beta-cell exhaustion and death (decompensatory phase). During the decompensatory period, there is both insulin resistance and deficiency.

Treatment of type 2 diabetes starts with oral drugs. These drugs improve insulin sensitivity or increase the production of insulin. Some newer drugs have a different mechanism of action. However, once the body stops producing insulin in enough quantity, one needs to use insulin.

Importance of Home Blood Sugar Testing & Who Should Test?

The importance of self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) is now well-known to science. Studies prove that it is an essential way to improve diabetes care. SMBG helps in many ways:

  1. It helps in optimizing the drug treatment
  2. Regular checking can generate abundant data to show daily blood sugar level variance and the risk of complications
  3. It might help avert hypo and hyperglycemia. Preventing hypoglycemia is particularly vital for those on insulin therapy
  4. It also motivates individuals to carry out lifestyle changes

Apart from those living with diabetes, high-risk individuals (like those with familial history) should also check blood glucose levels at least twice a year. Those with prediabetes or borderline condition (blood glucose on the higher side of normal range) must also check frequently.

When Should I Measure Blood Sugar?

More frequently, you test, better it is.  It is also necessary to maintain a record, as that can provide trend line or data that could be vital in clinical decision making.

In a resource-poor country like India, people try to minimize the use of diagnostic strips. Therefore, the minimum recommendation could be checking blood glucose at least twice a week.

Once fasting, that is on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning, and at least 8 hours after eating, but not more than 12 hours after the last meal. Take a second reading after the heaviest meal of the day.

This will provide a much better picture, as it will tell basal levels of blood glucose and also postprandial. Fasting blood sugar check indicates a basal level of insulin in the body, whereas postprandial indicates how insulin production happens after a meal.

For those who can afford more frequent checks, they can follow the regime shown in the table below.

Self monitoring chart
Table 1 Example of more frequent self blood glucose monitoring or those with well-controlled type 2 diabetes (on oral drug therapy)

 

However, those with poorly controlled diabetes might need more frequent checking. Similarly, those on insulin must check multiple times a day.

How to Test Blood Sugar from Home – Step by Step Procedure

Testing blood sugar levels at home is pretty simple. Moreover, the device is now affordable for most people. Hence all it requires is:

  1. Blood glucose meter (glucometer)
  2. Test strip
  3. Lancing device

Though not essential, it is good to have an alcohol swab at hand.

Following are the steps in checking blood glucose levels:

  1. Wash your hands properly and dry them
  2. Prepare your kit by loading new lancet into the lancing device
  3. Blood is taken from the finger-tip, thus, ensure that it is warm
  4. Insert a test strip into the glucometer
  5. Prick your fingertip using the lancing device, preferably middle or ring finger
  6. Gently massage or squeeze your fingertip until a round drop of blood appears
  7. Just check that the meter is ready, and then transfer the blood droplet to the testing strip
  8. Most glucometers would provide result well within 10 seconds
  9. Clean your finger, and equally importantly, do not forget to record your results (some glucometers are Bluetooth enabled for automatic record-keeping)
  10. Dispose of the used test strip and lancet

It is very important to log your blood sugar results whenever you check your blood sugar level. Record the following information: test results, time, date, diet and exercise, and medication and dosage. Ensure that you take this record of results whenever you visit your doctor. Ask your doctor what you should do when you get results that are not within the normal range of your target goals.

Tips for Accurate Blood Sugar Testing from Home 

Some people wrongly think that blood glucose monitoring at home is not worth it, because they feel that these meters are not accurate enough. However, most modern home glucometers have an accuracy of plus or minus 10% or even better. Lab machines have only slightly higher accuracy of plus or minus 5-10%.

Home glucose meter can provide results comparable to the best labs due to the abundance of data, more frequent checking. Thus, multiple reading done at home would have a similar value to the professional lab.

For better and more accurate results, ensure to test blood sugar levels always at the same time. Checking at different times would provide different results.

Other ways to ensure accuracy could be:

  1. Carefully read the user manual that comes with a glucose meter as procedures vary depending on the device
  2. Do not use expired test strips, and test strips should be stored as directed in the user manual
  3. Use test strips at room temperature – avoid using very cold strips taken directly from a refrigerator
  4. Wash and dry your hands well before testing
  5. Always buy the test strips created for that particular glucometer
  6. Ensure that the test strip is inserted well into the glucometer
  7. Add a generous drop of blood to the strip
  8. Avoid testing when dehydrated
  9. Those living with anemia might get wrong readings

One of the wrong approaches many users do to check the accuracy of the home reading is by comparing the results with the lab. They will never match, and up to 15% difference is normal.

The better way of knowing the accuracy of glucometer is by using a control solution. This is a solution of known glucose concentration.

Check Blood Sugar: Understanding the Results

How one interprets, results will depend on the time of checking blood glucose levels, as the levels would be higher post-meal (postprandial). Additionally, blood targets for those with diabetes and healthy individuals differ.

Chart -Understanding Results
Table 2 : Understanding the results

 

 

The above rules are applicable for most, but not for all. For those living with prolonged, poorly controlled diabetes, particularly in elderly patients, blood glucose targets might differ and are set by the treating doctor.

Published by

Dr. Aleksandar Grbovic

Dr. Aleksandar Grbovic

Hi! My name is Aleksandar Grbovic. I’m a radiology resident with five years of experience in General Medicine. As a medical writer, I have only one goal in my mind - to bridge the gap between doctors and patients point of view by breaking down complex medical topics and presenting them in lay people language. Knowing that my writing might help someone out there connect the dots is what keeps me motivated.

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