Easy Tips to Test Your Blood Sugar at Home

When you have diabetes, it’s important to keep a constant check on your blood sugar numbers. Your numbers help determine what causes your blood sugar to spike. Testing your blood sugar – also called blood glucose – once or a few times a day can help show if your diabetes medications and insulin are working the way they should.

The way you keep track of your blood sugar is with at-home testing kits – also called point-of-care glucose monitoring devices. You can find the devices at pharmacies and larger supermarkets. You’ll want to share your blood sugar readings with your doctor to look for trends. Yet ultimately, blood sugar testing has another purpose. “The testing is really for you,” says Susan M. De Abate, a nurse and certified diabetes educator and team coordinator of the diabetes education program at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital in Virginia Beach, Virginia. By tracking blood sugar trends, you get a better handle on how to manage your numbers.

Here are some tips and tricks to maximize blood sugar tests for better health when you live with diabetes.

Use a branded meter instead of a generic one. “The branded meters have gone through quality testing and are appropriately scrutinized,” says Dr. Michael Bergman, a clinical professor of endocrinology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Although all blood glucose meters need to have a certain level of accuracy, the branded ones are more likely to have reliable results, he believes. If you have health insurance, the insurance company likely will want you to purchase a specific type of meter, and it often will be a brand-name one.

Learn the ins and outs of your meters – and ask for help. Some meters come with extra bells and whistles that appeal to tech-minded folks (for instance, they can track your physical activity), while others are more straightforward. If you have dexterity or vision issues, find a meter that’s easy to grip or easy to see. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if the monitor seems overwhelming at first. “Over 90 percent of inaccuracy with the meters is operator-dependent,” Bergman says, reflecting on experience with his own patients. The result: Meters used incorrectly could result in risky medication errors based on faulty readings. Consult with a certified diabetes educator to learn how to use your meter properly, Bergman recommends.

Buy test strips made for your specific meter. The test strips add to the cost of blood sugar monitoring, especially if you have to check your numbers several times a day, says Erin Kelly, a nurse educator and certified diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, which is part of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Buy the test strips made for your meter to ensure accurate results.

Make sure there’s enough blood to fill the landing section of each strip. Otherwise, your meter may not be able provide a correct reading. Some devices require slightly more blood on the test strip than others.

There’s more to managing your health than eliminating white foods or gluten.

Wash your hands before using the meter. If you have any food on your hands – say, you just peeled an orange and the juice is still present on your fingers – it can affect your reading.

Use the device on the sides of your fingers, not on the fingertips. “If you stick the fingertip, that’s where you have more nerve endings,” says Lucille Hughes, a certified diabetes educator and director of diabetes education at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York. That can cause a slight pinch. If you use the sides of your fingers, it’s painless. Kelly also advises people to regularly change the fingers they use with their monitor. “Don’t play favorites,” she says.

Know your goal numbers. This will be a decision you’ll make with your doctor, and it will depend on the time of day when you check your blood sugar, what you’ve eaten and whether you’ve exercised recently. However, generally speaking, a safe reading is between 80 and 180, Kelly says. “We don’t like to see numbers above 250,” she adds, as this indicates uncontrolled blood sugar.

Track your blood sugar readings. This can be challenging for many people with diabetes. After all, who has time to make a note of all that information? However, without the numbers, your health care team will have a hard time determining if your blood sugar levels are within a reasonable range or if you need any changes in medication, Hughes says. Poor blood sugar control could lead to serious health complications. “Diabetes is about self-management,” Hughes says.

Another advantage of tracking numbers: You learn if there are certain foods that spike your blood sugar. Hughes got a blood sugar meter when she found out she has prediabetes. She learned that white flour tends to raise her blood sugar, but when she eats Greek yogurt, her blood sugar “reacts beautifully,” she says.

Some meters nowadays will capture numbers from readings and download them to an electronic device of your choice. When you have readings that are higher or normal than usual, you should also make note of what you ate before those readings.

Check your blood sugar at different times of the day. Doctors often ask patients to check fasting blood sugar in the morning. However, sticking to only that could steer patientsaway from spotting other times of the day when readings can spike higher, De Abate says. If you always test your blood sugar at the same time, the numbers may not accurately reflect what’s happening throughout the day. “We try to encourage doctors to go beyond fasting blood sugar as everyone’s different,” she says.

Check your blood sugar before your drive or before you operate heavy machinery. You don’t want to take the chance of having a high number, experiencing side effects and causing an accident.

Keep your meter out of the freezing cold or extreme heat. “The meter should never be in direct sunlight,” Kelly says.

One last point: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves and monitors blood sugar devices, allows for a little variation in numbers when you test your blood sugar. So, if you take your reading twice within a few minutes and see some variability, don’t panic. “That’s always a teaching point for us,” Kelly says.