Guide to Blood Glucose Meters

How to find an accurate monitor that best meets your needs

Woman testing for diabetes
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A glucose meter, also known as a glucose monitor or a glucometer, plays a key role in managing diabetes. It can tell you at a glance what your blood sugar is in the moment—important information on which you can base your food choices and how much you eat, your activity level, and, if you take insulin, your dose.

Beyond that, keeping a log of readings can give you and your doctor an overall picture of how your body responds to certain foods, exercise, medicine, and other factors. Regular monitoring also can help you stay as healthy as possible: The Diabetes Control and Complication Trial (DCCT) found that regular glucose testing reduced the risk of developing long-term complications.

Portable glucose monitors are available over-the-counter at drugstores and other stores that sell pharmaceutical products. They also can be purchased from online stores like Amazon and pharmacy websites. Some doctors and diabetes educators also stock glucometers.

Your doctor or a certified diabetes educator can help you decide which glucometer best meets your needs (one that monitors blood sugar continuously, for example, or that requires a minimal amount of blood). Learning all you can about how blood glucose meters work and the wide variety of features and options to consider when purchasing one can help you to make an informed decision.

Basic Blood Glucose Meters

At its simplest, a glucometer is a hand-held instrument with a digital screen that's used with disposable test strips treated with chemicals that react with glucose. Some glucose meters come with a lancing device—an instrument that uses a spring-loaded needle to create a tiny puncture in the skin from which a blood sample is obtained. Lancing devices and lancets can be purchased separately, however, and the size of the lancet can be adjusted depending on personal comfort.

To get a blood glucose measurement, a person draws a blood sample (usually from the side of a fingertip) and carefully touches it to a test strip that's been inserted into the device. The test strip absorbs the blood and then an electronic circuit detects the glucose on the strip, displaying it as a number on the screen, usually within seconds.

Most meters run on batteries and have at least a minimal amount of memory for storing results, and with very few exceptions have the capability to download and store results to a computer.

But there are other features to consider, such as:

  • A backlit screen, which makes it easier to read results
  • A portlight that illuminates where test strips are inserted
  • Wireless Bluetooth capability, so that results can be downloaded to a smartphone app where data can be stored
  • Cloud storage capability
  • USB rechargeable batteries
  • Ability to provide an accurate result with a 0.3-microliter blood sample (the smallest amount possible; particularly advantageous for testing children)
  • Voice technology, meaning the meter can "say" the results aloud (a great feature for people with diminished eyesight)
  • Alternate site testing, meaning blood can be sampled from a place on the body other than the fingertip, such as the forearm, palm, thigh, and calf, depending on the specifications of the meter
  • Measures blood pressure (as well as blood sugar)
  • Measures ketones (as well as blood sugar)

Top Brands

For more in-depth information about specific features and prices of the meters listed here, check out the American American Diabetes Association's 2018 Consumer Guide:

  • Freestyle Freedom Lite, Freestyle Lite, Freestyle Precision NEO (Abbot Diabetes Care)
  • Advocate Redi-Code Plus Speaking Meter (Advocate)
  • Jazz Wireless (Agamatrix)
  • Presto, Presto Pro (Agamatrix)
  • Glucocard 01, Clucocard Expression, Glucocard Shine, Glucocard Shine XL, Glucocard Vital (Arkray)
  • Contour Next, Contour Next EZ, Contour Next Link, Contour Next Link 2.4, Contour Next One (Ascensia Diabetes Care)
  • CVS Advanced Blood Glucose Meter (CVS)
  • Dario Smart Glucose Meter (Dario Health)
  • Myglucohealth Wireless, Myglucohealth Wireless Cellular (Entra Health)
  • BLE Smart Wireless System (Entra Health)
  • Fifty50 2.0, Fifty50 2.0 Sport (Fifty50 Medical)
  • Fora D40D 2-in-1, Fora D40G 2-in-1, Fora G30A, Fora GD50, Fora MD, Fora Premium V10 & Fora Premium V10 BLE, For Premium V12 Voice, Fora Test n' Go Advance Voice, Fora Test n'Go, Fora Test n'Go Voice, Fora V30 (Foracare)
  • GHT Blood Glucose Meter (Genesis Health Technologies)
  • Align (iHealth)
  • Smart Glucomonitoring System (iHealth)
  • Onetouch Ultra 2, Onetouch Ultramini, Onetouch Verio Blood Glucose Monitoring System, Onetouch Verio Flex, Onetouch Verio IQ (Lifescan)
  • Livongo Meter (Livongo Health)
  • Nova Max Link, Nova Max Plus (Nova Diabetes Care)
  • Easymax Light, EasyMax NG/LTC, Easymax Voice, Easymax Voice 2nd Generation (Oak Tree Health)
  • FortisCare EM66, Fortis Care EMV3, Fortis Care MU, Fortis Care T1 (Oak Tree Health)
  • Embrace, Embrace Evo, Embrace Pro (Omnis Health)
  • One Drop Chrome (One Drop)
  • Prodigy Autocode, Prodigy iConnect, Prodigy Pocket. Prodigy Voice (Prodigy Diabetes Care)
  • Accu-Chek Aviva Plus, Accu-Chek Compact Plus, Accu-Check Guide, Accu-Chek Nano (Roche)
  • Telcare BGM (Telcare)
  • True Metrix, True Metrix Air, True Metrix Go, TrueTrack (Trividia Health)
  • EasyGluco, Infinity, Verasens (U.S. Diagnostics)
  • Relion All-in-One, Relion Confirm, Relion Micro, Relion Premier Blu, Relion Premier Voice, Relion Prime (Walmart)

Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)

A CGM works through a tiny sensor inserted under the skin. Usually it's placed on the abdomen or back of the upper arm. Every few minutes, the sensor measures the levels of glucose in the fluid between cells in the body.

This information is sent to a monitor via a wireless transmitter, or directly to a smartphone or tablet. Many also come with the capability to wirelessly download meter results to a computer or upload them to a care management system.

Examples include:

CGM/Insulin Pump Combos

Some CGMs function as both a continuous blood glucose monitor and insulin pump. Test results are sent wirelessly to the insulin pump, which uses the information to calculate a precise bolus dose of insulin with meals.

Examples include:

  • MiniMed 530G System (Medtronic Diabetes)
  • MiniMed 630G System (Medtronic Diabetes)
  • MiniMed 670G System (Medtronic Diabetes)
  • MiniMed Paradigm Revel (Medtronic Diabetes)
  • T:slim X2 (Tandem Diabetes Care)

Buying Tips

Size. You'll be keeping your meter with you throughout the day, so think about how you'll be carrying it. If you always have a purse or backpack with you, any size glucometer should be fine. But if you plan to carry your meter in your pocket or need it to fit into a small carrying case, then you should shop for a small meter.

Screen size. Meters with very small display screens may not be practical if you have trouble reading things close up. Shop for a meter that has a large backlit display screen.

Memory. All glucose meters have memory. but a few offer minimal data banking (10 to 125 tests). Most record between 250 and 500 tests, with one meter (One Touch UltraSmart) able to record up to 3,000 tests.

Computer compatibility. This is a feature virtually all meters offer, along with the ability to e-mail your test results to your doctor. Many do not offer software that's compatible with Apple computers.

Cost. Meters can be purchased from a pharmacy for between $20 and $90; be on the lookout for rebate offers from pharmacies. You may be able to get a meter for free from your doctor.

Insurance. Before purchasing a meter, check with your insurance company to see if the cost of the device (and test strips) will be covered: Some insurance companies only provide coverage for particular meters.

Accuracy

Home blood glucose meters are considered clinically accurate if the result is within 20 percent of what a lab test would indicate. For example, a glucose meter result of 100 mg/dL could vary on the downside to 80 mg/dL or on the upside to 120 mg/dL and still be considered accurate.

All home glucose meters measure whole blood, but newer versions automatically convert the result into plasma results. The instructions that came with your glucose meter should tell you whether your meter is calibrated for whole blood or plasma results; you also can find out by contacting the manufacturer's customer service.

To measure the accuracy of your meter, to take it with you when you have a lab glucose test and check your blood immediately after. For the best results, ask the lab to process your blood sample within 30 minutes.

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released updated recommendations for blood glucose meters, including specific guidelines regarding accuracy.

Accuracy Standards for Blood Glucose Monitors

According to the FDA, glucose meter values should be within 15 percent of results obtained from a lab 95 percent of the time, and within 20 percent of lab measurements 99 percent of the time.

A Word From Verywell

Managing diabetes can be a complicated undertaking—especially if blood glucose monitoring is part of your protocol. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming, thanks to ongoing advances in technology. What may be overwhelming, however, are the many options among glucometers. This is where your doctor or certified diabetes educator can be helpful. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when faced with the task of choosing a blood glucose monitor is that your first option doesn't have to be your last. If the first glucometer you use doesn't suit you, there are plenty more to try.

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