Meghana Kumar, MD

Glucometers have revolutionized the management of diabetes. Early glucometers were clunky, slow, and required large drops of blood. The oldest ones simply displayed a color that had to be correlated to a numeric chart. On the other hand, the sleek, pocket-sized devices of today are lightning-fast and accurate.

So it’s no wonder that self-monitoring of blood glucose has become the standard of care. At its best, it lights our path in achieving glycemic control. At its worst, it’s an influx of confusing data, a constant reminder of this condition. So how do we make sure the glucometer is an asset rather than a nuisance?   

5 things you should know about using a glucometer:  

  1. Timing matters. It’s not enough to merely check glucoses – your provider also needs a context for these glucose values. Make sure the date and time settings on the meter are correct, and if you keep a log, write the times alongside the values. Even better, make note of the relationship of the readings to meals. Checking pre-meal glucoses is a good place to start, and your doctor may want you to check 1-2 hours after a meal or overnight too.
  2. Clean hands, accurate readings. Wash your hands with soap and water – and dry thoroughly! Residue of certain substances (like fruit) can artificially raise your glucose reading. Water can make the glucose look lower than it really is. Alcohol swabs or hand sanitizer will work too in a pinch, but keep in mind that applying alcohol excessively may dry out your skin.
  3. Fingersticks don’t have to be a pain. Pricking on the side of the finger rather than the finger pad can help, since that region contains less sensory nerve endings, as can changing the lancet type or size. Alternate site testing (AST) refers to testing glucose from sites other than fingers – ie. Palm, forearm, thigh, abdomen. Ask your provider if your meter is approved for AST. Values from alternate sites tend to lag behind your actual blood glucose level, so the readings must be interpreted with caution.
  4. What to do when numbers don’t make sense. Each finger is giving you a different reading, or you’re getting vastly different readings only minutes apart – how frustrating! First, ensure that your test strips aren’t expired, the test strips were properly stored, and your hands are clean. Make sure you’re giving an adequate blood sample. Then give the control solution a try. This is the small bottle that comes with every new meter. Apply a drop of this solution on the test strip to verify the accuracy of the glucometer. Your endocrinologist can send a prescription of the control solution to your pharmacy (and remember, it has an expiration date, too).
  5. You can identify patterns too. Whykeep a log if the meter records all the glucoses? For one thing, it saves time at your appointment if the provider has a log to look through, leaving more time for us to discuss important management issues. But more importantly, a log helps you to recognize trends – like what that mid-afternoon vending machine treat does to your blood sugar.