Glucose meters are small battery-operated devices used to measure blood glucose levels. Using a meter, you can test blood glucose at various times during the day and adjust your treatment according to the results.
To test your blood glucose level, you need a glucose meter, test strips, a finger lancing device and lancets (the needles that go in the lancing device). Apart from the test strips and lancets, you will find all of these items included in a kit along with the meter. The kit’s user guide gives detailed information on the use and features of the meter.
The strips are coated with chemicals that react with blood. The meter measures how much glucose is present and displays the result.
Two units of measurement are used in assessing blood glucose levels. Purchasing your glucose meter in Canada will help you to avoid problems with units of measurement. Canadian devices use mmol/L (for example, 4.0 mmol/L or 7.0 mmol/L), while American versions use mg/dL (for example, 72 mg/dL or 126 mg/dL).
Using the meter
As you will need to understand how to handle your blood glucose meter, selecting a pharmacy that can help with it is key. Safeway pharmacy staff are happy to demonstrate the latest technology and give you a complimentary sharps container and log book. Your pharmacy should also be able to help when you have problems.
Choose a pharmacy that will take the time to teach you how to get accurate results from your meter. You do not want to make mistakes and waste expensive strips. If you use insulin to manage your diabetes, accurate results are especially important in calculating the amount of insulin you need. Learning how to use your meter correctly is an essential part of this process.
Safeway Pharmacies also have diabetes meter trainers and pharmacists that can teach you how to use the meter, help with concerns and provide useful information. Some Safeway locations have pharmacists who are also certified diabetes educators that can help you manage your diabetes. Ask if you can access one of these specialists.
Review the Blood Glucose Meter Comparison Chart (see pages 15-16) to see how many meters are available in Canada. Every year, companies release new meters offering better technology and more strip accuracy. Consider changing your meter every two years, so that you can take advantage of these improvements.
How do you decide which meter is best for you? Consider the following points when making your choice:
Before releasing a new meter, companies must research and test extensively. Developments make the latest glucose meters simpler to use and more accurate.
Choose a meter that is easy to use. You want features that will help you gather the information your health care professionals need to adjust and improve your diabetes management.
You may have problems remembering to write down results. All newer meters on the market come with a large memory. Alternatively, you might need a meter with an alarm to remind you about insulin injections, or one that automatically reminds you to test after meals. Some meters store information about exercise, medication, insulin, and food. Most meters can store hundreds or thousands of results. You can transfer this data to a computer and print it out to share with your health care team. Computer programs and cables may be purchased directly from the manufacturer. Some meters on the market even send your results wirelessly to a smart phone app. If you prefer, writing results in a diabetes log book is still a very acceptable way of keeping track of your glucose results.
Both meters and test strips are getting smaller. If you have difficulty handling small items, you might not be able to pick test strips up to insert them into the meter. Strip technology has changed quite a bit in the last few years. You can now purchase a meter that uses a cassette so that you do not have to deal with individual strips. Some meters have large strips that are easy to handle, while test strip vials have large caps and are easier to open.
The cost of test strips can be an issue. Most provincial and private drug plans have limits as to how many strips are covered each year. Talk to your pharmacy staff about plans that may help cover the cost of diabetes supplies. Some pharmacies advertise sales regularly, so watch for sale flyers. Remember not to use test strips once they are past the expiry date.
All meter strips require a small blood sample. If circulatory problems make it hard for you to get blood, ask our specialists to give you some tips on how to get a blood sample. If you have problems getting enough blood the first time to do a test, some meters will allow a second drop to be placed on the strip. This way, you won’t waste a strip.
One meter currently on the market also tests for blood ketones. Those with type 1 diabetes should test for ketones if blood glucose measures over 14 or when ill.
Most newer meters read results in five seconds or less. If you have problems with low blood glucose, consider upgrading to a newer meter that tests more quickly. This will give you more time to react.
If you have vision problems, look for a meter with a large display or a color screen. Pharmacy staff can show you meters featuring large displays, backlights and colored screens to help you see the numbers better. This really helps with testing at night. Those who are blind might consider a ‘talking’ meter that can announce the blood glucose reading.
Finger lancing devices have improved over the years. You can now choose the depth of penetration. Lancets are finer, sharper and cause less pain. If you do not like to handle lancets, a device with a lancet drum is available for a specific meter.
Glucose meters and finger lancing devices must be cleaned regularly. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. Use a soft, damp cloth to clean the outside of your meter. Finger lancing devices should also be cleaned regularly with soap and water. Never share these devices. Change lancets after each use to avoid infection, damage to the skin, and painful punctures. Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the testing equipment, as well as before testing.
Your pharmacy staff can check your meter with a control solution to make sure it is working within the normal range.
To be certain that your meter is working accurately, compare a lab reading of your blood glucose with your meter's reading at least once a year. Clinical practice guidelines require that your meter should be within 20 percent of a fasting lab results to be acceptable. For instance, if your lab result is 8.0, your meter reading should be between 6.4 and 9.6. In 2015 Health Canada required that new blood glucose meters entering the market must guarantee blood glucose readings measure with 15 percent of a fasting lab results.
If you have problems with low blood sugar, the meter result should fall within 15 per cent of the lab reading. For instance, if your lab result is 8.0, your meter reading should be between 6.8 and 9.2. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator for a lab and meter requisition, as well as a procedure sheet.
Note that if you are on peritoneal dialysis, some meters will not read accurately. Talk to your dialysis or diabetes team to discuss what device will work best for you.
The glucose meter that you choose should easily fit into your lifestyle. If you are using the right meter, you will be comfortable testing more often. More results allow you to make better choices. The information collected by the meter helps you and your health care team to better manage your diabetes, and avoid complications.