How to Self-Monitor Blood Glucose

By Maureen Haggerty and republished with permission by - The Community of Caregivers

For a loved one with diabetes, monitoring blood glucose levels is crucial.

“Self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG testing) provides a map that guides decisions and changes in treatment components to improve diabetes control,” says Susan McLaughlin, American Diabetes Association president-elect, Health Care and Education. “Tracking patterns helps individuals know when they’re at greatest risk of very high or very low blood glucose, which can increase the risk of falls, result in fracture, decrease mobility, diminish quality of life, and lead to depression.”

Today’s blood glucose monitors are portable, accurate, and reliable. Test results are sometimes reported in as little as five seconds, and almost always in less than a minute. Some are easier to use than others, require less blood for testing, and store more data. Error codes, automatic timers, and barcodes make calibrating the units less complicated, and large display screens allow people with limited vision to read test results. Some monitors provide audible testing instructions and announce test results. Some speak Spanish.

Some monitors measure glucose in blood from parts of the body other than a fingertip. Many patients find this alternate site testing less painful than fingersticks, and results are similar when blood glucose isn’t changing rapidly. Values vary after a meal or during hypoglycemic episodes. That’s because blood taken from a fingertip measures “real-time” glucose levels. It’s the most accurate indicator of how successfully low blood sugar has stabilized after treatment.

How To Test Blood Glucose Levels

To perform SMBG testing:

  • Place a small amount of blood on a disposable test strip coated with chemicals that combine with glucose. 
  • Insert the strip into the monitor, which measures glucose by determining how much electricity can pass though the blood sample or how much light reflects from it.
  • The glucose level appears as a number on the monitor. Some monitors store test results, which can be transferred to a computer and printed or sent to the doctor.

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