Learn how to check your blood sugar and when you should check it.
Roughly 10% of the American population lives with some form of diabetes. The side-effects of untreated diabetes can be quite severe. Luckily, the miracles of modern medicine and technology make diabetes a manageable condition to live with.
The new responsibilities and medical procedures that people with diabetes must endure may be overwhelming or confusing to those who have recently been diagnosed. Lifestyle changes can be difficult. However, with a little guidance, diabetes education, and a good attitude, we have confidence that nearly anyone can navigate this challenge.
Type 2 diabetes causes high blood sugar due to insulin resistance, or reduced insulin sensitivity. Type 1 diabetes is caused when the immune system attacks and kills insulin-producing beta-cells in the pancreas, eliminating the ability to produce insulin. In order to self-manage your care as a person with diabetes, glucose monitoring is essential, and if blood sugar readings indicate a problem, you can take action for blood glucose control as needed such as insulin injections or oral medication, depending on your specific treatment plan.
What is A Glucose Meter? What is A Continuous Glucose Meter?
A blood glucose meter is a handheld device that allows you to check blood sugar manually. There are many different brands of meter kits, but they all have the same essential elements: a lancing device to draw a blood sample, test strips to collect the sample, and a glucose meter to read the sample and give the results. While it’s known that a finger prick is a common means of obtaining a blood sample, some meters are FDA approved for alternate site testing, and may offer an array of other helpful features such as testing reminders and data storage. Alternate site testing lets you use a different part of the body instead of the fingertip to draw a blood sample for blood glucose testing. Some common alternatives include the palm, forearm, upper thigh, and calf. Levels in the fingertips show changes quicker than those taken from other testing sites because they are at the extremes of the circulatory system. So, for best practices, many doctors will often recommend fingertip testing for most cases.
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a data sensor and transmitter that can be inserted into the skin, and is a good choice for those who have trouble sticking to a normal self-monitoring schedule, or for those averse to finger pricks. However, the option of a CGM is not always available. Most doctors will agree that CGMs can be beneficial for those with insulin dependence because of the benefits to knowing blood sugar levels in real-time, though insurance may not always be willing to cover the cost of this device.
Many people think that using a CGM will eliminate the need for traditional finger-prick glucose testing, but keeping testing supplies on hand and occasional use is still necessary.
How To Test Your Blood Sugar
Wash and dry your hands thoroughly to make sure you don’t contaminate your sample.
Prepare the lancet. How you do this will vary on what type of lancet you use, but ensure that whenever removing plastic caps, you pull them straight off to prevent bending the metal. Adjust the lancing depth as necessary.
Insert a test strip into your meter--make sure you follow the arrows that show you which side goes into the meter. You’ll want to make sure the meter shows you some indication (usually a specific icon) that it’s ready for the blood sample.
Use the lancing device to puncture your skin. Squeeze your finger gently to draw a drop of blood, then apply it to the tip of the test strip, ensuring you apply enough to fill the test strip completely.
It may take up to 15 seconds for a reading depending on your meter. Note your reading or store it using the meter’s memory function so you have this information available for later.
You can use an alcohol pad to wipe any excess blood from your puncture site, which also helps to reduce the chance of infection.
Most meters will tell you the average level of your blood sugar over predetermined periods, with some meters being able to provide averages for 7, 14, 30, 60, and even 90-day periods. There are also smartphone apps available to help you track blood sugar data, or you can always use logbooks to keep records by hand. If you can correlate blood sugar results with changes to habits, and then make lifestyle adjustments to improve results over time to make for better readings, you’re making good use of that data.
Be sure to read your meter manual for best results.
If you use a Diathrive glucose meter, you’ll be able to see 7, 14, 30, 60, and 90-day blood sugar averages. You’ll also pay less than you are used to if you have high deductibles or copays. Learn more about how we keep our prices low here.
When Should You Check Your Blood Sugar?
The majority of people with type 2 diabetes are generally asked to check once per day by their doctors, but depending on your treatment plan, you may be asked to check twice or more per day. Most people check in the morning since this is the best time to get fasting blood sugar levels, which is one of the most important data points for a doctor to use when adjusting medications and diabetes management plans.
Those with type 1 diabetes are asked to check at least four times per day, and may be encouraged to check more depending on how their blood glucose levels are affected by different parts of the day such as eating or sleeping.
Additional key blood sugar checks include before and after a meal to help provide information on how specific foods may affect you, as well as at bedtime to provide some insight as to how your nighttime routine (including snacks, medications, and sleep) may affect you.
Even if you have pre-diabetes, it’s still wise to regularly check blood sugar out of an abundance of caution.
While we understand this process may feel difficult or overwhelming, checking your blood sugar is essential if you have diabetes. Without incorporating this crucial routine in your life, you may risk the development of severe long-term health complications.
Blood Sugar Levels: What Is Normal?
When the human body consumes carbohydrates, it breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel that your body uses for any functions that require energy. The vital functions of the brain, heart, liver, and muscles are dramatically affected by blood glucose levels, making it important to keep track of them if you have diabetes. Complications with any one of these central systems can occur with persistently high blood sugars.
There are two key tests for understanding how well you are managing your blood sugar levels: with at-home blood glucose tests, and with A1C tests given by your physician.
Self-monitoring at home with blood sugar meters is an important part of diabetes management, and it’s not too difficult. There are plenty of online and in-person resources that can give you tips and tricks on how to best manage your condition on a daily basis.
An A1C test is an important method of blood glucose testing that your healthcare team uses not only to diagnose your diabetes in the first place, but also to see how well your blood glucose levels have been managed over time with your treatment. A1C tests are also very important for those with pre-diabetes.
People with diabetes should get an A1C test at least twice a year to verify the blood sugar test results they’ve been getting from their blood sugar meters. A severe difference between your A1c and blood sugar average may suggest that your blood glucose meter or your CGM may be malfunctioning or that you're using your glucose meter incorrectly. If this is the case, your healthcare team may need to re-examine your entire process to ensure accurate measurement and diabetes management.
In the United States, blood sugar is measured in units of mg/dl, which means milligrams of sugar for every deciliter of blood. The following chart shows normal blood sugar levels for people with diabetes versus people who do not have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
|Test type||Without diabetes||With diabetes|
|Fasting||70-99 mg/dL||80-130 mg/dL|
|After meals (postprandial)||<140 mg/dL||<180 mg/dL|
While these show the average levels for most people, there are many possible reasons why your normal blood sugar range could be different. Always double-check with your physician to know what blood sugar ranges work best for your individual health. Normal blood sugar levels can vary significantly due to age, weight, gender, and many other uncontrollable factors.
When Should I Notify a Physician?
It is important to keep your physician or medical team aware of dangerous test results or new symptoms. If your blood sugar is above 250 mg/dL use a keto strip to check for ketones in your urine. If ketones are present, call your doctor for medical advice. Keep records of your blood sugar and ketone test results. Modern glucose meters have a memory feature to store your blood sugar numbers.
Diabetes treatment plans and target ranges can change based on your overall health and how well your diabetes medications are working to manage diabetes, so it's important to keep records of your data and them with your healthcare provider.
You should also contact your healthcare provider if you have dangerously low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can cause disorientation and reduced cognition, so you may need to ask for help or call 911 for emergency help.
Master the technological features of your glucose meter and use them to your advantage. They can help increase your quality of life and how you feel on a daily basis. Regular blood sugar checks will help you identify how certain foods affect you and give you the information you need to adjust your eating habits and exercise needs.