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A diabetes test you can do yourself

About 40% who have the disease don't know it

Published: May 01, 2015 03:15 PM

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Are you urinating more often, feeling very thirsty, hungry, or tired? Maybe you’re losing weight. You may have type 2 diabetes. To find out, you can make an appointment with your doctor and have your blood tested for the condition. Or you can go to the drug store, buy a blood glucose meter, and give yourself a diabetes test.

An estimated 40 percent of adults with type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it, which means they aren’t getting treatment that could protect them from very serious health problems down the road, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure. The best option is to go to a doctor if you’re having symptoms of diabetes. But if you’re reluctant to do that, for whatever reason, the next best thing is to buy an over-the-counter diabetes test kit.

Up & Up Blood Glucose Meter (Target)

"If you have a family history of diabetes, are obese, or have high blood pressure, you should test yourself for diabetes, if your doctor hasn’t already done so," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser. "By being a proactive person, you might save yourself a lot of grief in the future.”

Blood glucose meters can be purchased without a prescription. Models in our Ratings of more than two dozen devices cost $10 to $75. They usually come with 10 lancets, but you might have to buy a pack of test strips separately, which can cost $18 and up; check the package to see what it includes. If the meter doesn’t come with strips, make sure you buy a pack made for that model or you’ll get inaccurate results. Most models come with batteries. Here’s what you need to do next:

  • Fast overnight. Don’t have anything to eat or drink (except water) for at least 8 hours, then test yourself first thing in the morning, before breakfast.
  • Follow directions. Read the manual to make sure you’re using the product correctly. Test strips should not be left exposed to the air for more than a few minutes before testing. Keep the vial closed tightly.
  • Test from your fingertip. Some machines allow you to test blood from other sites, such as the forearm, but those aren’t as accurate.
  • 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 and grime. The warm water and the brisk action of drying increases blood flow to your fingertips. Snapping your fingers several times can help as well.
  • Brace your finger. Holding it against a solid surface, such as a table, makes it less likely you’ll pull away as the needle strikes.
  • Afix the lancet to the lancet holder. Prick your finger tip with the spring-loaded lancet holder. A drop of blood will appear. Don’t squeeze your finger. That may lead to an inaccurate result.

After you place the droplet of blood onto the test strip and insert it into the meter, you’ll see the results in just a few seconds. You’ll need to repeat this process at least once more (you can use a different finger) to make sure your reading is accurate. Here’s what the numbers mean:

  • 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or lower: Normal.
  • 100 to 120 mg/dL: You might have prediabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than a third of adults have this condition, where blood sugar is elevated but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Studies have found that people with prediabetes are at a 15 to 30 percent risk of developing full-blown diabetes within five years.
  • 126 mg/dL or higher: You might have type 2 diabetes, like one in 10 Americans do. Diabetes is especially widespread among seniors, affecting nearly one-third of people 65 and older.

Don’t panic if your numbers are high. Follow up with your doctor to verify the results and to find a treatment regimen, including diet, exercise, and medication, that will help if you do have the disease. Your doctor should tell you how often to test at home to keep your condition under control.

As for prediabetes, there’s currently no medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment, though some medications such as metformin (Glucophage and generic) are prescribed off-label for that purpose. But adopting lifestyle changes, including a low-calorie, low-fat diet and walking briskly for at least 150 minutes per week, are very effective treatments and make it less likely that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes. You can also find a diabetes prevention program in your area.  

—Sue Byrne

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