How to Use a Glucometer

Diabetic girl using blood glucose meter
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At-home blood sugar monitoring devices called glucometers provide you with instant feedback and let you know immediately what your blood sugar is. This can give you valuable information about whether your blood sugar is too low, too high or in a good range for you.

Keeping a record of your results can help you pattern manage — providing you with information on how your body is responding to certain foods, exercise, and medicine. It also provides your doctor an accurate picture of how your treatment is working.

Glucose meters are more sophisticated these days, requiring less blood than in the past, as well as being conveniently sized and portable. They are small enough to take with you anywhere and based on your comfort level, can be used anywhere at anytime.

Oftentimes, unless you have met with a certified diabetes educator, your doctor may have given you a prescription for a meter without telling you how to use it. And while most instruction manuals are user-friendly, this task can seem daunting if you are new to testing or not that technologically savvy. If you are wondering what you need to use a glucometer and what are the basic steps to using one, you can follow these guidelines for safe and easy testing:

What You Need to Use a Glucometer

  • Alcohol prep pad (or soap and water if you have access to a sink)
  • Lancet
  • Test strip
  • Glucometer
  • A notebook to record results

Here's How to Use a Glucometer

  1. First, set out your glucometer, a test strip, a lancet and an alcohol prep pad.
  2. Wash your hands to prevent infection.If you are not by a sink, it is okay to just use the alcohol swab and vice versa. If you are by a sink and wash your hands thoroughly, you do not have to use an alcohol swab. 
  3. Decide where you are going to obtain the blood from — the standard choice is from a finger. Some monitors let you use, alternative site testing, such as your forearm or another less sensitive place. Before you use an alternate site, discuss this with your doctor and check the instructions for your glucometer.
  4. Sometimes it helps to warm your hands first to make the blood flow easier. You can rub your hands together briskly or run them under warm water. If you run them under hot water, be sure to dry them well as wet hands can dilute the blood sample, resulting in a lower number. 
  5. Turn on the glucometer and place a test strip in the machine when the machine is ready. Watch the indicator for placing the blood on the strip.
  1. Make sure your hand is dry and wipe the area you've selected with an alcohol prep pad and wait until the alcohol evaporates.
  2. Pierce your fingertip on the side of your finger, between the bottom of your fingernail to the tip of your nail (avoid the pads as this can pinch more). The type of drop of blood is determined by the type of strip you are using (some use a "hanging drop" of blood versus a small drop for strips that draw blood in with a capillary action).
  3. Place the drop of blood on or at the side of the strip.
  4. The glucometer will take a few moments to calculate the blood sugar reading. Follow your doctor's orders for whatever blood sugar reading you get.
  5. You may use the alcohol prep pad to blot the site where you drew the blood if it is still bleeding.
  6. Write down your results. Keeping a record makes it easier for you and your doctor to establish a good treatment plan. Some glucometers can store your results in a memory, for easier record keeping.

Tips for Using a Glucometer

  1. Make sure you keep batteries in stock that fit your glucometer.
  2. Make sure your test strips are not expired. Expired test strips can provide an inaccurate result. 
  3. After taking a strip out, close the lid tightly. Too much light or moisture can damage the strip. 
  4. Lancets come in different gauges. The higher the number, the thinner the lancet. A 21 gauge lancet may not be as comfortable as a 30 gauge lancet.
  5. You can also adjust the setting on your lancing device to depict how far the needle will penetrate the skin. Most people can retrieve an adequate sample from somewhere in the middle. For example, if your lancet is numbered, adjust it to setting number 2. If that doesn't work you can increase the setting. 
  6. Dispose of your lancets in a puncture-proof container, preferably a red sharps container that is made for that purpose. You can get one from your doctor or pharmacy. If none is available, use a laundry detergent bottle with a screw-on cap, to prevent needle-stick accidents. Many hospitals and pharmacies have a sharps drop-off program where you can bring your container when it is full.
  1. Keep your glucometer and test strips in a clean, dry place. And avoid extreme temperatures. For example, do not leave your meter and strips in your car when it is cold out or on top of your heater
  2. Discuss with your doctor how often and at what times of the day you should be testing and what to do if your results are low or high.
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