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If you are one of the more than 29 million people in the U.S. living with diabetes, a glucometer is your best friend.
This small device is used to test your blood glucose (BG) levels at any given time, providing an indication of whether those levels are high, low, or on target. Diabetics test their blood as often as 10 times per day, depending on circumstances. They select the proper remedy based on the reading, whether it’s taking insulin for high blood sugar or ingesting a glucose tablet, sugar-based soft drink, or orange juice for low blood sugar.
No matter the size, shape, or advanced features of a glucometer, the process of using the device is almost always the same. It begins with placing a test strip in the glucometer and then drawing a small amount of blood from a finger or other designated area with a specially designed lancing device. The blood is placed on the test strip, and the glucometer springs into action. Within seconds, a digital readout of your blood glucose level appears.
Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.
For diabetics with insurance, the choice of glucometers is limited to what your provider will cover. The glucometer/test strips relationship is similar to razors and razor blades in that the glucometer is relatively inexpensive while the test strips can be very costly. For that reason, health insurance providers negotiate special rates for test strips, either directly with the manufacturer or with third-party suppliers who work with groups of providers.
Because glucometer choices for insured diabetics are controlled, a shopping guide is useful for purchasing a backup meter or for those who may be pre-diabetic or prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). At BestReviews, we take this very seriously. Our mission, as always, is to provide you with information about our top five choices in the product space. Please see the matrix, above, for our endorsements of the five best glucometers available. If you’d like to learn more about glucometers, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Given the importance of diabetic BG levels, stashing a second meter and a supply of test strips in your car or bag can be a lifesaver.
There are a number of factors involved in selecting the right glucometer for you. Much of it boils down to a matter of preference. Here are some key areas to consider:
The readouts from your glucometer are used to make important decisions about how much insulin to take for a meal, or in the case of hypoglycemia, how much sugar is needed to correct a low reading. Glucometers are medical devices, so their accuracy is governed by the FDA, which means they all are reviewed by the federal government to ensure their accuracy. That said, independent tests show that accuracy among meters can vary up to 6%.
Meters vary on the amount of blood needed for accurate results, with many meters claiming their test strips require “less blood” for testing. For those who test frequently, the less blood needed for a test, the better.
Each meter uses its own branded test strips, and each vial of strips comes with a code. Before testing, the user must match the code on the strips with the code on the meter. This is a simple process, but it can be an annoyance. Some newer meters don’t require coding, while others automatically read the code on the strips and adjust as needed.
Glucometers vary in size, from large ovals of about 2” x 3” like the Lifescan Ultra One Touch 2 to pocket-sized ones that measure 1” x 2” like the Accu-Chek Smartview Nano. To determine the right size for your glucometer, you need to know that glucometers should be carried in a small case that allows you to keep test strips and your lancing device handy. The size of the case can make a difference in how easy it is to get out the unit when needed on-the-go.
Patterns and trends are important for diabetes management. By understanding such factors as time of day and the impact of exercise and diet, doctors can better understand how to prescribe medications and set required insulin amounts. When selecting a glucometer, make sure it has the ability to store your BG readings as well as the date and time of day. Most physicians — especially endocrinologists — can download these readings from your glucometer to assist in treatment planning. The Lifescan Ultra One Touch 2 can hold more than a week’s worth of time-coded readings, which is valuable for tracking patterns that need attention.
Some glucometers can be cleaned at home with soap, water, and a damp rag. Others should be cleaned only by the manufacturer. Refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines to find out exactly how your glucometer should be cleaned.
In addition to memory storage, newer glucometers have bluetooth capabilities that allow the user to share his or her BG readings with a smartphone app. In most cases, the info on that app can be sent to a private, secure cloud and shared with your physician.
Prices range from as low as $10 to well over $100 for meters that check ketone levels as well as blood glucose. With high readings (over 200 mg/dl), many meters will provide a warning to check ketones. It’s important to note that many of the “extra” features on a glucometer are only nice-to-haves; accuracy and ease of use are two of the features that matter the most.
Glucometers can be cheap, but test strips are not. Luckily, most insurance providers cover a major portion of the cost of test strips. If you run out of strips — which happens a lot for many diabetics — or you are buying strips for your backup meter, the costs can mount. For example, at the time of this writing, a box of 50 One Touch Ultra strips cost about $22 on Amazon. com. For someone testing eight to ten times a day, that’s more than $100 per month for strips.
Health care innovators are coming up with new ways to make testing BG levels easier. Here are a few new high-tech options for diabetics:
Meters from Gmate and iHealth work directly with smartphones as an accessory that plugs into the phone. These small devices have their own branded test strips and work with an app made for iOS and Android smartphones. The app not only facilitates info sharing with your physician, but it can also can track diet (the impact of certain foods on your readings) and exercise.
While not on the market yet, UK-based GlucoWise is working on a meter that uses low-power radio waves and sensors to measure your BG level. This non-invasive meter is set to be available in 2018. Integrity Applications is working on a non-invasive meter called GlucoTrack that measures BG via a sensor you can attach to your earlobe.
Google has secured a patent for glucose-sensing contact lenses that is a system that includes a sensor, chip, and antenna. To make things even cooler, Google, working with Novartis on the project, will develop smart jewelry and other accessories that can act as a reader for the contact lens sensors. It is not clear when device testing will begin.
Don’t throw your glucometer user manual away! Keep it on hand in case you encounter confusing error codes or other problems in the future.
With medical breakthroughs and technological advances, diabetes is no longer the major burden it was even 20 years ago. Here are some tips to better manage your diabetes:
Please note that these tips are not a substitute for proper medical care. If you have diabetes, we urge you to stay under the care of a qualified physician!
All glucometers must be approved by the FDA before they can be sold in the U.S.
Q: Can my smartwatch track my BG readings?
A: To date, no smartwatch can take blood glucose readings. Prior to the release of Apple’s smartwatch, the FDA issued rules regarding the difference between “health and wellness” measurement (how many steps did I take today?) and medical devices like the glucometer. A number of partnerships between smartwatch manufacturers and medical device companies have sprung up to tackle this opportunity.
Q: Do Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics need a glucometer?
A: Yes. Both Type 1s, whose bodies don’t manufacture insulin, and Type 2s, whose bodies manufacture limited amounts of insulin, need glucometers. Type 1s test their BG levels more frequently.
Q: What is a Continuous Glucose Monitor?
A: A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) is a medical device that continually tracks the patient's BG readings. It is a system that has a transmitter — worn on the body — and a receiver that captures the information. Newer CGMs have smartphone apps that can double as receivers and store readings. CGM users also need a glucometer to calibrate their devices at regular intervals.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.