Blood Glucose Meters

Using a glucose meter may seem complicated, but with practice you'll soon be doing it quickly and easily. Most glucose meters require only a single drop of blood, which is typically obtained by pricking your finger with a sharp-pointed lancet. After the finger stick, you place a drop of blood on a small test strip that has been treated with an enzyme called glucose oxidase. You then insert the strip into your meter, and within seconds a digital readout of the result appears on the screen.

A variety of devices make drawing blood as painless and simple as possible. For example, some lancets are spring-loaded and adjustable to give a shallow stick. Other lancets allow blood to be withdrawn from the forearm, which is less sensitive to pain than the fingertips. Your doctor, however, may want you to use the finger-stick method, since blood from the fingertips shows decreases in blood glucose levels more quickly (30–60 minutes) than blood from other sites.

Choosing a blood glucose meter

Ask your doctor or diabetes educator to recommend a meter that suits your needs. Many new meters offer multistrip cartridges, large display screens, ultrashort test times (as little as five seconds), and other convenience features.

Most meters display the results digitally, although audio meters (which read the results aloud) are available for people with vision problems. Before buying a meter, test it to make sure you feel comfortable using it. Also, find out how easy it is to maintain, clean, and calibrate the meter. Once you've purchased a meter, ask your doctor or diabetes educator to observe you testing yourself to make sure that you're doing it properly.

How often to self-test

People with diabetes are encouraged to check their blood glucose levels frequently. Recommendations for home monitoring vary from once a day or less in people with well-controlled type 2 diabetes to multiple times daily in people with type 1 disease. Most health insurance companies understand this and offer programs that provide reimbursement for certain meters plus sufficient free testing supplies. (Be sure to check with your own insurance company for details.)

Prices for meters range from about $20–$300, but many manufacturers offer rebates and special offers. Because the biggest expense over time is the test strips, manufacturers often offer a free meter and free replacement meters so that you will keep purchasing their brand of test strips.

Publication Review By: Written by: Christopher D. Saudek, M.D.; Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.

Published: 22 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015