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Monitoring your blood sugar is the best way to see how well you are controlling your diabetes. Blood sugar is the amount of sugar, also called glucose (GLUE-kose), in your blood. If you have diabetes, you will sometimes need to check your blood sugar at home. This guide will help you get started.

There are two tests that measure blood sugar:

One test is called an A1C (A-one-C.) Your A1C is a measure of your blood sugar over the past 3 months. Your doctor will order this test at least twice a year and will tell you how you are doing. Most people with diabetes should aim for an A1C less than 7.

The other test is called a blood glucose or blood sugar test. This is the test you will do at home to show your current blood sugar. For the rest of this guide we will focus on home blood sugar testing.

 

When should I check my blood sugar?

Everyone is different. If you need to take insulin for your diabetes, you will probably check your blood sugar 2 to 6 times every day. If you don’t take insulin, you may only need to check it every once in awhile. Your family doctor will tell you how many times to check your blood sugar and when to do it.

The most common times people check their blood sugar are:

  • first thing after waking up
  • before meals
  • 1 to 2 hours after meals
  • at bedtime

 

What supplies do I need?

You can buy everything you need at a drug store or online.

  1. A glucometer (glue-KAH-meter) – also called a blood glucose meter or blood sugar monitor
    • A glucometer is a small machine you can hold in your hand. It uses one drop of your blood to measure your blood sugar. Your doctor can prescribe you a glucometer so that insurance will cover some or all of the cost.
  2. Alcohol wipes – also called alcohol prep pads or alcohol swabs
    • The box will usually be labeled “70% isopropyl (ICE-oh-pro-pull) alcohol.”
  3. Finger lancets (LAN-sets)
    • Lancets are tiny needles that are specially made to get a tiny drop of blood from your finger. They are single-use so you will need a new one each time you check your blood sugar.
  4. Test strips
    • Buy test strips that are designed to work with your glucometer. Make sure you store the test strips like medications, somewhere that is not too hot, too cold, or damp. Test strips are also single-use.
  5. A logbook
    • You can use any regular notebook or you can download and print log sheets from this webpage (see below.)
  6. A medical waste container
    • You will need a special container to throw things away. Finger lancets, test strips, and insulin needles (if you use them) cannot be thrown loosely into your regular garbage can. Every state is a little bit different. Ask your doctor or go to safeneedledisposal.org to find out how to throw your materials away.

 

How do I check my blood sugar?

Step 1:

Wash and dry your hands. Be sure to use warm water.

Step 2:

Insert a test strip into your glucometer.

Step 3:

Clean your fingertip with an alcohol wipe.

Step 4:

Prick the side of your fingertip with a finger lancet. Pricking the side of your fingertip is less painful than on the pad or the tip. Switch fingers each time you check your blood sugar so they don’t get sore.

Step 5:

A small drop of blood might form on its own. If not, massage your finger to help a drop come out and sit on your skin.

Step 6:

Pick up your glucometer and touch the end of the test strip to the drop of blood. The test strip will absorb some of the blood.

Step 7:

Wait a few seconds and your blood sugar number will show on the screen.

Step 8:

Write down your blood sugar number and the date in your logbook. You should also write the time of day, relative to meals and sleep. For example, it is better to write “before lunch” than “11:00 am.” When you are starting a new diabetes medication or treatment plan, you should also keep track of what you eat, any exercise you do, and how much medication you take.

It is important to be honest and specific in your log entries or it will be very difficult to adjust your treatment plan. Download an example log from this webpage (see below.)

*Most glucometers will keep an electronic log of your blood sugar numbers for you. Write your numbers down anyway. It is good to have a backup of your numbers, and your logbook will include important diet and exercise information.

Step 9:

Put the used finger lancet and test strip into your medical waste container.

Your glucometer might work a little differently than this. Follow the directions that come with your machine.

Bring your glucometer and logbook to all appointments with your doctor. You and your doctor can look at it together and decide if your treatment plan should be changed.

 

What should my blood sugar number be?

Most people with diabetes should aim for the following blood sugar numbers.

  • first thing after waking up: 80 to 120
  • before lunch or dinner: 80 to 130
  • 1 to 2 hours after meals: less than 180
  • at bedtime: 110 to 150

Ask your family doctor if these are good numbers for you. They might recommend different numbers if you…

  • are an older adult.
  • have other medical conditions.
  • have had diabetes for a long time.
  • cannot feel when your blood sugar is dangerously low.

Make a plan with your doctor for what to do if your blood sugar is too high or too low.

  • Usually your plan for high blood sugar will include taking more insulin or exercising.
  • Usually your plan for low blood sugar will include eating or drinking some sugar.

Have a friend, partner, or family member stay with you until your blood sugar is back to normal. Make a plan as soon as possible so you can be prepared. Both very high and very low blood sugar can be an emergency.

 

Be proud that you are taking action.

Use your blood sugar logbook to judge how well your treatment plan is working, not to judge yourself. It is normal to feel upset, angry, confused or frustrated if your blood sugar is not what you want. Remember that if your numbers are out-of-control it just means your treatment plan needs to be changed. Sometimes you just need a change for a little while. Everything, from getting sick to celebrating the holidays, can affect your blood sugar!

Checking your blood sugar will help you and your doctor learn the best way to manage your diabetes. Be proud that you are taking action to be the healthiest you can be.


 

Authors: Darcie Moeller & Adam Thatcher

Editor: Neal Moeller

 

References:

NIH – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/4-steps

 

NIH – National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes/know-blood-sugar-numbers

 

Mayo Clinic

Blood glucose meter: How to choose

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/blood-glucose-meter/art-20046335

 

Mayo Clinic

Blood sugar testing: Why, when and how

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/blood-sugar/art-20046628

 

American Diabetes Association

Checking Your Blood Glucose

http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/checking-your-blood-glucose.html

 

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Glucose Monitoring Devices

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/diabetes/glucose_monitoring_devices_85,p00339

 

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/diabetes/self-monitoring_of_blood_glucose_22,selfmonitoringofbloodglucose

 

FamilyDoctor.org

Monitoring Your Blood Sugar Level

https://familydoctor.org/monitoring-your-blood-sugar-level/