For people already diagnosed with diabetes, a simple diabetes home test is vital in the management of blood sugar levels. It could even be lifesaving.
How to test for diabetes at home
A blood glucose test before breakfast will be the baseline for blood glucose levels.
Home blood glucose monitoring is designed to offer a picture of how the body is processing glucose.
A doctor might recommend testing at three different times, and often over the course of several days:
- Morning fasting reading: This provides information about blood glucose levels before eating or drinking anything. Morning blood glucose readings give a baseline number that offers clues about how the body processes glucose during the day.
- Before a meal: Blood glucose before a meal tends to be low, so high blood glucose readings suggest difficulties managing blood sugar.
- After a meal: Post meal testing gives a good idea about how your body reacts to food, and if sugar is able to efficiently get into the cells for use. Blood glucose readings after a meal can help diagnose gestational diabetes, which happens during pregnancy. Most doctors recommend testing about 2 hours after a meal.
For the most accurate testing, people should log the food they eat, and notice trends in their blood glucose readings. Whether you consume a high or low carbohydrate meal, if your blood sugar reading is higher than normal afterwards, this suggests the body is having difficulty managing meals and lowering blood glucose.
After consulting a doctor about the right testing schedule and frequency, people should take the following steps:
- Read the manual for the blood glucose monitor and testing strips. In most cases, testing strips should only be inserted into the monitor immediately before a reading.
- Wash and dry hands.
- Cleanse the testing area with an alcohol swab. Some glucose monitors allow testing on the arm or another area of the body that is less sensitive.
- If testing on the finger, test on the side of the finger, and use different fingers with each test. Most lancets allow the user to set how far it penetrates the skin. People with thicker or drier skin should set the penetration higher.
- Position the finger against a firm surface, before lancing.
- Squeeze the finger while holding it at chest level, and allow a drop of blood to flow onto the test strip.
- Note the blood glucose reading and record it.
Some people with diabetes use an alternative blood test for glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). The testing procedure is largely the same, but will produce different readings. Sometimes known as A1c, this test provides a picture of blood sugar readings over several weeks.
For most people, blood sugar readings should be as follows:
Fasting (morning testing or before a meal)
- Without diabetes: 70-99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
- Target for people with diabetes: 80-130 mg/dl.
Two hours after meals
- Without diabetes: Below 140 mg/dl.
- Target for people with diabetes: Below 180 mg/dl.
- Without diabetes: 5.6 percent or lower.
- Target for people with diabetes: 7.0 percent or lower.
Target numbers may vary from person to person and may change over time depending on health, age, weight, and other factors. Before beginning home testing, it is important to get clear guidelines about target figures from a doctor.
Diabetes cannot be diagnosed solely by home testing. People with unusual readings will need further testing by a doctor.
Tests might include fasting tests, tests following consumption of a glucose solution, HbA1c tests, or a combination of these.
Choosing a blood glucose monitor
When deciding on a blood glucose monitor to purchase, a few factors should be considered.
A blood glucose monitor, testing strips, and a lancet to draw the blood are all necessary for testing. Some testing kits offer all three, while others require purchasing each piece separately.
People should consider the cost of testing strips as well as the monitor itself, since people with diabetes use many testing strips. Some other tips for buying a monitor include:
- selecting one with automatic coding
- checking insurance plans to see if the insurer only covers certain monitors
- looking at whether the unit stores previous data
- considering portability, since larger units can be harder to carry
- weighing blood sample size, particularly for people who do not like pricking themselves
Monitors that use a smaller sample size will also use a less painful stick.
Symptoms of diabetes
Many people with diabetes have no symptoms at all. As a result, the absence of symptoms does not necessarily mean the absence of diabetes.
Many of the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same, since both affect the body's ability to regulate blood sugar. Those symptoms include:
- increased hunger and thirst
- increased urination, particularly at night
- unexplained weight loss
- tiredness that is not well-explained by something else, such as sleep deprivation
- blurred vision
- slow-healing sores, or wounds that appear to heal and then reopen
- high blood pressure
Pregnant women who suddenly experience these symptoms should consider the possibility of diabetes. The placenta releases hormones during pregnancy that can make it more difficult for the body to control blood sugar. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause a range of pregnancy complications.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and can lead to a host of complications. These include:
Increased hunger and thirst, as well as increased urination at night, may be symptoms of diabetes.
- cardiovascular problems, including stroke, heart attack, and blood clots
- wounds, numbness, tingling, and even loss of feet or limbs
- kidney failure
- nerve damage
- chronic headaches
Early interventions can reduce the risk of severe or fatal diabetes complications. The right combination of medication and lifestyle changes may even help reverse some cases of diabetes.
When to see a doctor
People performing home diabetes testing who have unusually high results, particularly more than once, should see their doctors. People with diabetes whose blood sugar is poorly controlled, or whose blood sugar suddenly changes, should also consult a doctor.
Changes in diet, medication, or both may be recommended. Diabetes can be well-controlled by managing carbohydrate intake, and exercising regularly,
People with prediabetes are at risk for developing diabetes if blood sugar is not managed. It's especially important for people with prediabetes to talk to their doctors, and to continue regular blood glucose monitoring.