Managing blood sugar levels is a crucial aspect of living a healthy life. Blood sugar regulation impacts our mood, energy levels, cravings, and metabolic health. Thus, whether we are seeking to improve our metabolism, optimize metabolic health, stabilize energy levels, reverse prediabetes, or manage diabetes, controlling blood sugar can help. The ability to monitor blood sugar levels at home has revolutionized the way individuals make food choices, manage their diabetes, and improve their health outcomes. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to monitor your blood sugar levels at home. We will cover everything from choosing the right monitor to understanding blood sugar readings and adjusting your lifestyle to maintain healthy levels. With the right knowledge and tools, monitoring your blood sugar levels at home can be a straightforward process that helps you take control of your health.
Understanding Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the main source of energy for the body. Glucose is predominantly produced when the body breaks down carbohydrates from the food we eat. In a healthy individual, the pancreas produces insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels and maintain glucose control.
For nondiabetic individuals, a high blood sugar can have us feeling anxious or experiencing brain fog. Low blood sugar can make us feel irritable or have food cravings. Additionally, the large fluctuations in blood sugar can damage our metabolic health.
Understanding blood sugar levels is essential for people with diabetes to manage their condition effectively. A person with diabetes can have a blood glucose level that is too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia), both of which can cause severe health problems.
Fortunately, monitoring blood sugar levels has become easier with the advancement of technology. Two of the most popular methods of monitoring blood sugar levels are glucometers and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems.
A glucometer is a handheld device that measures the level of glucose in a drop of blood obtained by pricking the finger. CGM systems, on the other hand, use a sensor that is inserted under the skin to continuously monitor glucose levels via interstitial fluid. CGMs can provide a more comprehensive view of glucose control and help identify trends in blood sugar levels.
It's essential to understand your blood sugar levels, as they can be affected by a range of factors such as diet, exercise, and stress. Keeping track of blood sugar levels at home can help people improve their health, manage their diabetes, or avoid health complications.
Why Should we Monitor our Blood Sugar at Home?
Keeping our blood sugar levels within a healthy range is crucial if we have diabetes, prediabetes, or want to improve our overall health. Monitoring our blood sugar can help us to manage our metabolic health or prevent complications such as heart disease and nerve damage. Here are a few reasons why monitoring our blood sugar at home is important:
- Improved Glucose Control: By monitoring our blood sugar regularly, we can keep track of our glucose levels and make changes to our diet, exercise routine, and medication as needed to keep our levels in check. We can minimize consuming foods that spike our blood sugar and understand why we may be feeling irritable (aka when our blood sugar dips too low). By improving our glucose control, we can stabilize our energy levels, support our weight loss goals, reduce food cravings, and improve metabolic health.
- Better Medication Management: Home monitoring helps us determine how well our medication is working, and we can make necessary adjustments under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
- Early Detection of Problems: Monitoring our blood sugar regularly helps us detect and address potential problems before they escalate. If you notice that your levels are consistently high or low, you can alert your doctor to avoid complications. When we consistently have high blood sugar it becomes our new “normal” and we get used to that feeling. Thus, it can be extremely challenging to identify the elevated blood sugar. At-home monitoring can help us to have real-time feedback on our glucose levels in order to make lifestyle adjustments that significantly impact our future health.
- Customization: By monitoring our blood sugar levels at home, we can get a better understanding of how our bodies reacts to different foods and activities. This can help us create a personalized diet and exercise plan to suit our specific needs.
Types of Blood Glucose Meters
There are various types of blood glucose meters available in the market. Here are the two most common types:
- Traditional Glucose Meters: These meters require you to prick your finger with a lancet and place a drop of blood on a test strip. The meter then analyzes the sample and provides you with a blood glucose reading after approximately 5 seconds. There are countless different brands of traditional glucose meters. Some of the most popular brands include: Contour Next One, FreeStyle Lite, Dario, One Touch Ultra 2, Keto-Mojo, and BioCoach.
- Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) Systems: These systems use a sensor placed under the skin to monitor glucose levels continuously. A small filament about 5mm long sits amongst the itnersititual fulid just below the skin. It’s so small you can easily forget it’s there. The filament will collect glucose readings from the intersitial fluid and transmit readings wirelessly to a receiver, smartphone app, or smartwatch. In this way, continuous glucose monitoring systems provide real-time data on your blood sugar levels. Sensors last approximately 2 weeks each and will stop recording and transmitting data after they have expired. However, you can easily remove one sensor and immediately apply another sensor. Sensors take approximately one hour to calibrate after insertion. Some common brands of continuous glucose meters include: FreeStyle Libre and Dexcom G6.
As with any medical device, each type of meter has its own advantages and disadvantages. Traditional meters are usually more affordable and accurate, while CGMs provide real-time readings, helping you to track glucose fluctuations more effectively.
Ultimately, the choice of meter will depend on your needs, lifestyle, and budget. You can speak to your healthcare provider or a diabetes educator to determine which meter would be best for you.
The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Glucose Monitoring System
There are several types of glucose meters available for monitoring blood sugar levels at home. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on individual needs and preferences. Here are the pros and cons of using glucometers and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs):
Glucometers are the most common type of blood glucose meters. They use a small drop of blood from a finger prick to measure blood sugar levels. Glucometers are typically affordable and easy to use. Some glucometers even offer advanced features like Bluetooth connectivity for syncing data to a smartphone app.
Advantages of Using a Glucometer:
- Affordable and widely available
- Simple to use and interpret results
- Compact and portable
- Easy to find replacement strips and lancets
- No prescription necessary
Disadvantages of Using a Glucometer:
- Requires multiple finger pricks throughout the day
- Results may vary based on external factors like temperature or humidity
- Since you only see snapshots of blood sugar levels, it is possible to miss peak high and low levels and, thus, not realize exactly how dramatically your blood sugar is fluctuating
- Some people find finger pricks uncomfortable or painful
- Requires carrying a small kit with alcohol wipes, lancets, test strips, and meter
- While the process only takes about a minute, you do need to stop whatever you are doing, clean your finger with an alcohol wipe, set up and use the lancet, then wait a few seconds for the results
Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs):
CGMs are wearable devices that continuously measure glucose levels throughout the day and night. They use a small sensor inserted under the skin to measure interstitial fluid glucose levels. CGMs provide real-time data on blood sugar levels, which can help to see the immediate impact of our lifestyle choices.
Advantages of Continuous Glucose Monitors:
- Provides continuous real-time glucose data
- Reduces (or eliminates) the need for finger pricks
- Most CGMs record and store data for at least 8 hours, this means you can record glucose levels even while you sleep
- You can “set and forget it” without carrying supplies
- Alerts for high or low glucose levels
- Can help identify trends and patterns in glucose levels
- The continuous nature means that you don’t miss data. You can capture every high and low
Disadvantages of Continuous Glucose Monitors:
- More expensive than glucometers
- Sensors may require replacement every 2 weeks
- Requires calibration with a glucometer during setup for accurate results
- In the United States you need a prescription in order to obtain a continuous glucose meter. You can obtain a prescription through your healthcare provider or via a business like Tastermonial, Levels, or Nutrisense.
Ultimately, the type of glucose meter you choose will depend on your personal needs and preferences. Consider factors like cost, comfort, and frequency of monitoring when making your decision. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best option for your glucose management plan.
Steps to Checking Blood Sugar Levels with a Glucometer
Now that you have selected your glucose meter, it is time to learn how to check your blood sugar levels at home. Follow these steps to ensure accurate readings:
- Wash your hands thoroughly, then dry them completely. This step is essential because sugar residue or any other substances on your fingers can affect the accuracy of your readings.
- Insert a test strip into your glucose meter and wait for it to turn on. Make sure that the date and time on your device are accurate (this is important for getting a full timeline of your glucose response later).
- Prick the side of your fingertip with a lancet to obtain a small drop of blood. Some glucose meters require blood from other body parts, so check your user manual for specific instructions.
- Place the drop of blood on the test strip or follow the instructions of your device to transfer the blood. Make sure to apply enough blood to fill the test strip correctly.
- Wait for the glucose meter to display your blood sugar level. Most meters will provide a reading within a few seconds.
- Record your blood sugar level and the time of the day in your logbook or glucose monitoring app. Keeping track of your readings is essential to monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan if necessary. Logging activities like exercise, travel, and especially meals can help to identify foods or patterns that induce blood sugar spikes.
- Dispose of the used lancet and test strip safely and properly. Some devices come with a sharps container that you can use for this purpose.
- Repeat the process as needed. The frequency of blood glucose monitoring depends on your goals, health status, and doctor's recommendations.
By following these steps, you can ensure accurate blood sugar level readings and tracking. If you have any questions or concerns about your glucose meter or monitoring process, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Steps to Checking Blood Sugar Levels with a Continuous Glucose Meter
The steps to applying a continuous glucose monitor and receiving blood sugar data will depend upon your brand of CGM as well as your receiver or app. In general, application takes less than five minutes and blood sugar readings will be available after a “warm-up” period of 1 to 2 hours.
An instructional video detailing how to insert a Dexcom sensor and attach the transmitter can be found here. If you have a FreeStyle Libre 14-day sensor then check out this instructional video for details on the application procedure.
When is comes to receiving your blood sugar measurements from your CGM, your choice of applications will depend on your sensor and how you purchased your CGM. If you want to keep it simple, all FreeStyle Libres will pair with a FreeStyle app that can automatically receive blood sugar data by waving your phone across your sensor. Likewise, all Dexcom CGMs can be used with the Dexcom G6 app. Additionally, if you buy a CGM prescription through their specific service, you can receive access to popular apps that can integrate with your CGM. Popular companies that provide both CGM prescriptions and apps include Tastermonial, Levels, and Nutrisense.
Interpreting Results and What to do Next
Once you have checked your blood sugar levels, it is important to interpret the results and understand what they mean. According to the American Diabetes Association, a healthy range for fasting blood sugar levels is below 100 mg/dL, but this can vary based on a variety of factors such as age, health condition, and lifestyle habits. If your blood sugar levels are outside of this range, there are steps you can take to help manage your levels.
If your levels are consistently high, or it takes longer than two hours for your blood sugar levels to return to normal after a meal, it is important to speak with your healthcare professional as it may require adjustments to your medication or lifestyle habits. Additionally, if your levels are consistently low, it may be necessary to adjust your medication or dietary habits to avoid hypoglycemia.
It is also important to track your blood sugar levels over time to identify patterns and make necessary changes. For example, if you notice consistently high levels after eating certain foods, it may be necessary to adjust your diet to avoid those foods or incorporate physical activity after eating to help reduce your blood sugar spike.
Overall, monitoring your blood sugar levels at home can provide valuable insight into your health and help you make necessary changes to manage your condition effectively. Remember to always consult with your healthcare professional to determine the best course of action based on your individual health needs.
Troubleshooting Common Issues with Glucometers
Monitoring your blood sugar at home is a valuable biofeedback tool. However, it can be frustrating when unexpected issues arise. Here are some common problems people experience and how to troubleshoot them:
- Inconsistent results: If your readings vary greatly, try checking your meter against a control solution. Make sure your meter is clean, and you're using fresh test strips. Inconsistent readings can also indicate an issue with the meter itself, so consider getting a new one.
- Difficulty obtaining a blood sample: If you're having trouble obtaining a drop of blood, try warming up your hands, or washing them with warm water. Prick your finger on the side instead of the pad, where there are fewer nerve endings. You should always use a new lancet after every finger prick.
- Test strips not working: Check that the test strip is inserted correctly, and the expiration date has not passed. Store test strips in a cool, dry place, away from moisture.
- Meter won't turn on or isn't responding: Check that the battery is inserted correctly and hasn't died. Clean the meter's connection points with a soft, dry cloth. If the meter still isn't working, contact the manufacturer for assistance.
- Unexplained high or low readings: If you're experiencing unexpected high or low readings, check the expiration dates on your supplies, and make sure you're using them correctly. Also, check for any external factors that could be impacting your blood sugar, such as stress, illness, or changes in medication.
Troubleshooting Common Issues with Continuous Glucose Monitors
- Application error: Occasionally, you can follow the application instructions and something goes awry, maybe the application didn’t release the sensor or some malfunction occurred that did not allow you to properly apply the sensor. If this happens do not try and reapply the sensor. Hold onto it, put it with the packaging that it came with and contact the manufacturer. Usually customer support will be able to provide you with a replacement sensor.
- Sensor falls off: Sometimes we forget that we are wearing a CGM and we accidentally knock it against a door frame or have it knocked askew during exercise. In order to reduce the likelihood of this happening you can put a patch over your sensor. The patch will also help to preserve the adhesive during sweaty exercise or showers.
- Scan times out: If your reader (or phone) is not held close enough to your CGM them it will not be able to receive a blood sugar result. Be sure to hold your phone within 1.5 inches of the CGM in order to accurately transmit data.
- Erroneous readings overnight: If you applied the CGM to your arm, try to choose the side on which you are least likely to sleep. Placing pressure directly on the sensor or rolling over onto the CGM throughout the night can cause incorrect measurements.
Monitoring your blood sugar at home can be challenging, but with some troubleshooting, you can resolve most issues. If you're still experiencing problems, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare professional or the CGM company directly for additional support and guidance.
When to Contact a Healthcare Professional
While monitoring your blood sugar at home can be incredibly helpful in managing blood sugar levels, there may be times when you need to contact a healthcare professional. Here are some instances where it is important to reach out to your doctor or nurse:
- Your blood sugar levels are consistently above or below your target range. If you are consistently experiencing high or low blood sugar levels, it may be time to talk to your healthcare professional about implementing an effective management plan.
- You experience symptoms of high or low blood sugar that do not improve with treatment. Symptoms of high blood sugar can include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Symptoms of low blood sugar can include shakiness, sweating, confusion, and irritability. If these symptoms do not improve with treatment or occur frequently, contact your healthcare professional.
- Your glucose meter is not working properly. Glucose meters can malfunction, leading to inaccurate readings. If you notice inconsistencies or errors with your glucose meter, contact the manufacturer or your healthcare professional for assistance.
- You are experiencing a medical emergency. If you are experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, always seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Take Away Message
Monitoring your blood sugar levels at home can be a simple and effective way to gain valuable insight into your metabolic health. Plus, it can be done in the comfort of your own home and while you go about your daily activities without disruption. By understanding blood sugar levels, choosing the measurement tool that is right for you, and following the steps to checking your levels, you can take control of your health and make informed decisions about your diet and lifestyle. If you encounter any issues with your glucose meter, don't hesitate to troubleshoot, contact the manufacturer, or contact your healthcare professional for assistance. Remember, regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels can make a significant difference in your overall well-being.
Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick