Blood glucose meter: How to choose

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Blood glucose meter: How to choose

If you have diabetes, you likely need a blood glucose meter — a small computerized device — to measure and display your blood glucose level. Monitoring blood glucose levels provides valuable information about how exercise, food, medications, stress and many other factors affect your blood glucose, which, in turn, helps you better manage your diabetes.

Many types of blood glucose meters are available, from basic models to more-advanced meters with multiple features and options. The cost of blood glucose meters and test strips varies, as can insurance coverage. Study all of your options before deciding which model to buy. Here's what to look for.

Choosing the right meter

When selecting a blood glucose meter, it can help to know the basics of how they work. To use most blood glucose meters, you first insert one end of a test strip into the device. Then, you prick a clean fingertip with a special needle (lancet) so that you can draw a drop of blood. You carefully touch the other end of the test strip to the blood and wait for a blood glucose reading to appear on the screen.

Blood glucose meters are usually accurate in how they measure glucose, but they differ in the type and number of features they offer. Here are several factors to consider when choosing a blood glucose meter:

  • Insurance. Check with your insurance provider for specific details about coverage before you buy. Some insurance providers limit coverage to specific models or limit the total number of test strips allowed.
  • Cost. Meters vary in price, so shop around. Be sure to factor in the cost of test strips, especially if insurance doesn't pay for them. Test strips are the most expensive part of monitoring because they're used so often. A meter may be the cheapest one on the market, but may not be a good deal if the strips cost twice as much. Also, strips that are individually packaged tend to cost more, but you might not use all the strips in a container before the expiration date or within the required number of days after opening the container. Figure out which type of strip is most cost-effective for you.
  • Ease of use and maintenance. Some meters are easier to use than others. Are both the meter and test strips comfortable to hold? Can you easily see the numbers on the screen? How easy is it to get blood onto the strips? Does it require a small or large drop of blood? Also, some brands of meters need to be coded and others have no coding. Code numbers are used to calibrate your meter with the test strips for accurate results.
  • Special features. Ask about the features to see what meets your specific needs. For example, some meters are large with strips that are easier to handle. Some are compact and easier to carry. People with impaired vision can buy a meter with a large screen or a "talking" meter that announces the results. For children, there are colorful meters that give a quick reading. Some models have a backlight, which is handy for nighttime readings.
  • Information storage and retrieval. Consider how the meter stores and retrieves information. Some can track all the information you'd normally write in a log, such as the time and date of a test, the result and trends over time. Some meters offer the ability to download your blood glucose readings to a computer and email the test results to your doctor.
  • Support. Many meter manufacturers include a toll-free number on the back of the meter or packaging that you can call for help. Look for a meter that includes clear instructions that demonstrate the correct way to use the meter.

Advances in monitoring tools

Although finger pricks remain the gold standard for blood sugar monitoring, researchers are developing products designed to take the "ouch" out of the process. You might ask your doctor about the alternatives.

Device How it works Considerations
Alternative site monitor Allows blood samples from areas likely to be less painful than your finger, such as your arm, abdomen or thigh Not as accurate as fingertip samples when blood sugar level is rising or falling quickly
Infrared light monitor (No device is currently on the market in the U.S.) Uses a beam of light to penetrate the skin and measure blood sugar level Variations in blood pressure, body temperature and other factors can affect accuracy, so you may need to periodically check blood sugar level with a traditional monitor to confirm readings
Skin testing (No device is currently on the market in the U.S.) Worn like a watch, uses small electrical currents to repeatedly pull tiny amounts of fluid from your skin to a sensor pad; sounds an alarm if blood sugar level becomes too low or too high Skin irritation possible; not effective if sweating heavily; may require periodic check of blood sugar level with a traditional monitor to confirm readings
Continuous glucose testing Uses a sensor placed under skin to measure blood sugar level; transmits each reading to a small recording device worn on your body; sounds an alarm if blood sugar level becomes too low or too high Expensive; requires sensor to be replaced every three to seven days depending on the brand; must check blood sugar level several times a day with a traditional monitor when dosing for insulin or treating low blood sugar to confirm readings

If you've looked at the costs, features and other considerations and are still unsure which blood glucose meter to buy, ask your doctor or diabetes educator for a recommendation. He or she can help you sort out the pros and cons and can answer questions about available models.

Last Updated: 2009-12-17
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