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2004 Edition

Monitoring Your Blood Glucose at Home
Choosing the right glucose meter and using it effectively can help you manage your diabetes better.

Regular home monitoring of blood glucose is essential for everyone with diabetes: It can help keep blood glucose under control and reduce the risk of many long-term complications. In addition, by recording each day’s results (along with the time and prior activities such as meals or exercise), problems can be spotted as they develop, patterns in blood glucose fluctuations can be identified, and problems can be fixed early on.

Most of the blood glucose meters currently on the market require a drop of blood from your finger or forearm; less invasive models are being investigated. The following tips can help you choose and maintain an accurate blood glucose meter.

How To Choose a Meter

There are many types of blood glucose meters, so ask your doctor or diabetes educator to recommend one that meets your needs. Before buying a meter, test it out to make sure you feel comfortable using it. Also, find out how easy the meter is to maintain, clean, and calibrate.

Some meters are easier to read than others. Most models display the results digitally. Audio meters, which read the results aloud, are available for people with vision problems.

Using Your Meter Effectively

Most errors in home monitoring result from poor testing techniques, rather than from defective meters. To keep your meter in good working order, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance. Make sure your test strips are fresh (don’t use them after the expiration date, or if they’ve changed color or have been open for a long time). Also, be sure to recalibrate your meter when needed. Dirty meters, old test strips, and improper calibration can all interfere with accuracy.

It’s a good idea to test your meter’s accuracy at least once a month, or whenever you suspect a problem. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Working With Your Health Care Professional

Bring your meter to each doctor’s appointment and take a reading within 5 to 10 minutes of having your blood drawn. The meter results should vary by no more than 15% from the lab’s measurement. Engaging in this practice will not only help to ensure that your meter is working properly, it will also allow your doctor to monitor your technique.

Blood glucose meters with data-management systems can give a more detailed picture of your blood glucose control than traditional meters. These systems, which work with a personal digital assistant (PDA), can enhance blood glucose control by electronically recording blood glucose levels as well as information about meals and exercise. Copying or downloading this data onto your doctor’s computer and displaying it graphically can make it easier to understand glucose fluctuations.

While a data-management feature is helpful, it certainly is not essential; so before buying this type of meter, make sure that you really need it and understand how to use it. Also, check to see if your model is compatible with your doctor’s computer. If your doctor doesn’t provide this service, your local pharmacy may be able to give you a printout of your data so you can review it with your doctor.

On the Horizon

Efforts are under way to develop less invasive blood glucose meters. For example, diabetes experts say that the development of a device that continuously measures blood glucose levels—rather than at specific points in time—will be extremely helpful. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one such monitoring system, but it requires the insertion of a sensor just under the skin and does not provide immediate feedback to the person with diabetes. Instead, the person’s doctor downloads the data every one to three days. Another device displays blood glucose levels in real time, but the device lasts only 12 hours.

Eventually, researchers hope to develop a blood glucose meter that can provide continuous blood glucose readings directly from the bloodstream; however, such a device would require major surgery to implant it.


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The Diabetes White Paper from The Johns Hopkins White Papers series is an annual, in-depth report written by Hopkins physicians.



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