For someone recently diagnosed with diabetes, it may be overwhelming to think about all the devices and supplies used to manage diabetes. As you learn about these materials, you also might find that the terms used are confusing -- some terms are very similar but have different meanings and uses, and some are terms you may have never heard until now.
So, let’s start with a couple of simple definitions:
A lancet is a small needle in a molded piece of plastic that is used to puncture the skin for a blood sample (an action sometimes referred to as “prick”, “finger prick” or “finger stick”). The needle is very small and thin, but just big enough for a drop of blood to be drawn. Lancets can be used alone or with a lancing device.
A lancing device is used with a lancet to help make the pricking process easier and less painful.
More About Lancing Devices and Lancets
Most lancing devices look like a broad pen with a dial on the end. The lancing device holds the lancet, and when you press the trigger or button, the device quickly deploys the lancet to prick the skin. The lancing device makes sure the prick is the same every time, and can be adjusted to change the depth in which the lancet goes into your skin.
Lancing devices can be either cam-driven or spring-loaded. The difference between the two is in the way the mechanical operation works. In a cam-driven lancing device, a turning cam is used to load a lancet. Cam-driven lancets hold several lances, so you simply rotate the barrel to load a new lancet. Cam-driven devices are only used to prick your finger and are not suitable for use on other parts of your body, i.e. alternate site testing.
Spring-loaded lancing devices use an internal spring to deploy the lancet. A lancet is loaded into the device for each use. Variations of the spring-loaded lancing device can be used on other parts of your body like the palm of your hand, thigh, or forearm (check your lancing device manual to see if it has been approved for alternate site testing). Some spring-loaded devices used on other parts of your body can also use a suction cup to pull up your skin slightly before the lancet is released.
Because there are different types of lancing devices, not all lancets fit in every device. Always read the instructions for your lancing device to understand which lancets will work with your device. Although some people reuse lancets, it is best to replace them after each use to reduce the chance of infection and ensure you get a good reading from your test.
Using a Lancing Device
All lancing devices are a bit different, so make sure you read the directions for your lancing device before you use it.
The steps for using a lancing device are fairly quick and easy:
First wash your hands to decrease your risk of infection.
Then remove the cap from your lancing device and either turn the cam to load a lancet (cam-driven device) or manually load a lancet (spring-loaded device).
Adjust the lancing device to the depth you want.
When you are ready to prick your skin, press the lancing device to your finger, and press the button to trigger the lancet to prick your skin.
So, what happens if you can’t get enough blood from your finger?
First try gently squeezing blood toward the location of the puncture.
If that doesn’t do the trick, try adjusting the lancing device to increase the depth in which the lancet goes into your skin.
You can also try washing your hand first with warm water or hanging your hand downward beside you before using the lancing device.
If you are reusing a lancet, it might be too dull to effectively prick, which is just one of many reasons we don’t recommend reusing lancets.
What happens after I prick my skin and get a blood sample?
The drop of blood you draw with a lancet and lancing device is ultimately used to determine if your blood sugar levels are within your target range. Your exact target range is often specific to you and your health care provider will help you determine what your target range should be, though there are general ranges that most people with and without diabetes will fall into at certain times of the day and after certain activities like eating or sleeping.
So, how does that work? A blood glucose meter, also known as a glucometer, paired with a test strip are what you use to check your blood sample for your blood sugar level.
To check your blood sugar, you’ll insert a new test strip into the blood glucose meter and apply your blood sample (after using the lancing device). The test strip has a capillary that pulls your blood sample into the strip, and an enzyme on the strip mixes with your blood so that the glucose meter can measure the sugar in your blood. The test strip enzyme is very sensitive, so make sure you keep your test strips away from heat, cold, moisture or direct sunlight.
As you can imagine, the test strips are very important to the process, and you want to make sure the test strips are good before you use them. You can do this by checking the first strip in each new batch with control solution to make sure the rest of the batch of test strips will give accurate readings on your blood glucose meter.
The control solution is specific to your meter, so make sure you have the right solution before you begin. Usually, there are 2-3 different levels of control solution so that you can test for accuracy at low, normal, and high glucose levels, but you don’t have to use all three each time -- one is generally enough, and typically, if the first test is good, they are all good.
Are all lancets the same?
Lancets might look very similar, but they are not all the same. The main differences are needle gauge size, and whether or not they are self-contained.
You can determine the size of the need by the gauge number: the higher the gauge number, the smaller and thinner the needle.
Wait, what? Did I read that right?
Yes, higher gauge numbers mean smaller, thinner needles! Smaller needles tend to cause less pain, but the smallest needle may not work for you if you have thick or rough skin. You might need to try different size needles to find the size that works best for you. A lancing device allows you to use a smaller needle because the device allows you to adjust the depth of the prick.
It’s your personal choice whether to use a lancet alone or with a lancing device. You can try both methods and decide what is best for you.
Questions to ask yourself when you try each method include:
Which method is easier for me to use?
Which method gives me the most consistent way to get the blood sample I need?
Which method do I like best, even if I can’t quite describe why?
For people who want a more automated approach, a lancing device is a good choice. The lancing device can take the stress out of pricking your finger because it is easy to use and provides a consistent puncture to your skin. You simply insert the lancet into the lancing device, press it to your finger, and press a button. You can then use your blood glucose meter to test your blood sugar level. The results of the blood check give you information you can use in managing your diabetes.
For more resources to help you get started on your diabetes journey, click here to check out Diathrive’s wealth of resources. Good luck!