One of the first tasks that patients and/or caregivers must learn is how to measure blood glucose levels. This means getting a drop of blood on a strip that is inserted into a meter that measures the blood glucose level or wearing a factory calibrated continuous glucose monitor. For many, checking blood glucose is one of the parts of having type 1 diabetes that is the most difficult. It hurts a little, and some people are self-conscious about doing it in front of other people.
Once the meter tells you your blood glucose level, you will have to know what to do with the information. Knowing how to react to different blood glucose levels is an ongoing task that you/your child will work on with your healthcare team.
First you must assemble the pieces and learn how to use them. The parts needed include:
- A lancing device (the plastic stick that holds the lancet and pushes it down into the finger)
- Lancets (the devices that do the poking)
- A test strip
- A meter (which tells you the blood glucose number)
Each brand of meter comes with its own type of lancing device, although they are all pretty similar. They can be set to varying depths. Start at the lowest level for the gentlest poke.
Be sure to ask your healthcare provider for the lancet you prefer. In practice, people often use the same lancet over and over. The more it is used, the duller it becomes. We recommend changing the lancet at least once a day. If you/your child is very sensitive to fingersticks, it is good to use a new one each time.
Each brand of meter has its own test strips. They are not interchangeable. Test strips must be kept covered in the little bottle they come in or in their foil wrappings. Don’t use expired test strips because they may not be accurate. Tell your health-care provider exactly which strips are needed and how often you check your blood glucose.
There are many meters on the market and some are better than others. Ask your healthcare provider which they prefer and which meters your insurance company will cover. Some meters work with specific pumps. Others work with certain Internet applications and programs; others have Bluetooth and other capacities for communicating data, all of which can be helpful for diabetes management.
People are often frustrated by how much blood glucose levels can vary even if taken just a few minutes apart. It seems as if there is no “truth” as to what the blood glucose level is and this can be very confusing. Trust your instincts. If a result seems wrong, check again. The following are common reasons why blood glucose levels seem to vary:
- There is an accepted variance of 10–15%.
- Expired strips.
- Sugar on fingertips.
- Too little blood.
- Wet fingers.