Today's blood glucose meters are smaller, faster, and come with more features than ever before. They're also more accurate than blood glucose meters of years past. That's good news for the approximately 26 million Americans with diabetes.
Controlling blood glucose is key to managing diabetes and preventing complications. Test results help patients make adjustments to their diet, exercise routine, and diabetes treatment plan, which can help lower the risk of seizures, blindness, kidney disease, and nerve damage.
How we tested
To find the best blood glucose meters, our lab technicians took blood samples from staff members, some who had diabetes, and compared multiple readings from each tested home meter with a standard laboratory glucose analyzer to determine accuracy and repeatability, our measure of a meter's consistency from test to test. In addition, a panel of staff members with diabetes helped rate the blood glucose meters for ease of use.
Current Food and Drug Administration standards require that blood glucose meters be accurate within 20 percentage points of lab readings. We think the standard should be tightened, an improvement the FDA is considering. Our Ratings (available to subscribers) allow you to compare the accuracy of various models above and beyond current guidelines. All the models we tested were well within current accuracy regulations, but only those with Very Good or Excellent scores earned our recommendation.
How to choose
Anyone with diabetes can benefit from testing. Blood glucose monitoring can be particularly important for those taking insulin or other diabetes medications, women with gestational diabetes (diagnosed during pregnancy), and those having difficulty with controlling their diabetes.
If you rely on a home blood glucose meter for sugar control, use our Ratings (available to subscribers) to find the one that's best for you: convenient to use, accurate, and capable of producing repeatable results. Talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about your goals, and decide which features matter most. Then consider:
Medicare covers diabetes-related supplies, and private insurance might cover some or all of the cost. Start by looking up your plan to see if there are certain brands of blood glucose meters and strips it will cover. Find out how many test strips, if any, are covered per month. Your strip coverage will depend on whether you use insulin, for example.
Don't just look at the retail price of the meters themselves. What makes blood glucose monitoring expensive is the test strips, which you might use many times a day. At $39 to $120 per 100 test strips, the cost can add up to about $1,750 a year for people who test four times a day. Replacement lancets are another expense to consider.
Blood glucose meters need to be calibrated to each batch of test strips. Some require you to enter a code, and if you do it incorrectly you could get inaccurate results. Others use a removable code chip to calibrate the meter to each batch of strips.
The most convenient blood glucose meters store at least 360 test results. Some also track the average of your readings over seven, 14, or 30 days to give you a view of your overall blood sugar control. If you check your blood glucose frequently, consider a model with lots of memory.
The difference of a few seconds might not seem like much, but when you're using a meter three to five times a day, a longer test time can be a nuisance. Our panelists found that 5 seconds or less was desirable.
Markers and flags
They allow you to note whether a reading was taken before or after a meal or exercise.
If you're frequently on the go, look for a compact meter. Some of the larger models store multiple strips so you don't need to load one for each test, but our panelists found them bulky. Still, those models might make home testing more convenient, especially for those with dexterity or vision difficulties. Most models require a watch or medical battery, but consider a model that uses AAA batteries, which might be easier to replace in a pinch.
Today's blood glucose meters require smaller blood samples than those from years past. That makes testing less painful. If you're sensitive to lancing, look for a meter that requires less than one microliter of blood.
How to use
Here are some tips to help you get accurate readings from your blood glucose meter:
Talk with your health care provider
Compare the meter's result with your doctor's lab result to make sure you're using the right technique and that the meter works properly. Your doctor should tell you how often to check your blood sugar.
Always read the manual and the test strip insert to ensure that you use the products correctly, since not all blood glucose meters are the same. Store your unit and test strips at room temperature in a clean, dry place.
Use the right test strips
If you use ones made for other models, you might get inaccurate results. So use only those designed for your meter. Read the strip inserts to see if you have any medical conditions that could interfere with testing accuracy. In addition, don't use GDH-PQQ (glucose dehydrogenase pyrroloquinoline quinone) glucose test strips if you take any medication containing non-glucose sugars such as galactose, maltose, or xylose. GDH-PDQ strips cannot distinguish between glucose and other sugars and can falsely elevate glucose readings. Test strips with GDH-PQQ include those compatible with the Accu-Chek Aviva, Accu-Chek Compact Plus, FreeStyle Freedom Lite, FreeStyle Lite, TRUEresult, and TRUE2go blood glucose monitoring systems. Test strips should not be left exposed to the air for more than a few minutes before testing. Keep the vial closed tightly, and be aware of the expiration date.
Test from your fingertip if you think your glucose is low
Some machines allow you to test blood from other sites, such as the forearm, but those aren't as accurate when your blood glucose levels are changing rapidly.
Wash your hands
Use soap and warm water and towel dry vigorously. Even a little sugar on your skin from food can throw off your results, as can dirt. The warm water and the brisk action of drying increases blood flow to your fingertips. Snapping your fingers can help as well.
Brace your finger
Holding it against a solid surface makes it less likely you'll pull away as the needle strikes.
Don't squeeze your finger
That usually leads to a poor finger prick and can result in errors.