Blood sugar levels may rise and fall in response to diet, medications, and physical activity, among other things. At-home blood sugar monitors allow a person with diabetes to easily monitor their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Around 10% of the United States population has diabetes, while almost 35% have prediabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to many health complications such as stroke, blindness, neuropathy, and kidney damage.

People with diabetes need to monitor and keep their blood sugar levels within the target range to manage their condition and prevent the risk of complications.

Blood sugar monitors can provide a quick, simple, and convenient method for people to check their blood sugars. People can then use this information to take appropriate actions, such as injecting insulin or consuming carbs to put their blood glucose into their target range.

This article discusses blood sugar monitors, who they are for, different types of monitors, how to use them, and more.

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Blood sugar or glucose is the main energy source of the body. The body breaks down the food we eat into sugar. The blood carries sugar into the bloodstream to the body’s cells to supply energy.

Blood sugar level rises and falls throughout the day depending on factors such as:

  • diet
  • level of physical activity
  • medications
  • illness
  • stress
  • hormone changes, including menstrual periods
  • dehydration

Blood sugar monitors or glucose monitors are portable devices that analyze a person’s blood to check a person’s blood sugar concentration.

Since blood sugar levels change throughout the day, doctors may require people to check their blood sugar levels several times a day.

These at-home test devices can be invasive, noninvasive, or continuous.

Glucose meters also vary in appearance, size, and features. Some may have accompanying apps, backlit screens, and USB ports, among other features.

People with the following conditions should regularly monitor their blood glucose levels:

A person’s doctor will determine how often they should check their blood sugar levels. Frequency varies depending on the type of diabetes and medications a person is taking.

Generally, a person checks their blood sugar levels:

  • upon waking up, before having any food or drink
  • before meals
  • 2 hours after a meal
  • before bed

A person with type 1 diabetes does not produce enough insulin. This is why they must monitor their blood sugar levels closely.

They may need to test four or more times a day. They may need to test more often if they are ill, experience a change in their usual activities, or switch to a new medication.

People with type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes may only need to test two to four times a day. A person with LADA gradually loses their ability to produce insulin. Doctors will tell a person with LADA how often to test, depending on the course of their condition.

There are three types of blood glucose monitors available in the market.

Blood glucose monitor (BGM) or glucometer

Blood glucose monitors (BGMs) or glucometers are handy devices that measure a person’s blood sugar levels from a small sample, usually from a fingertip.

Glucometer kits come with lancets that people use to prick their fingers to obtain a blood sample. They run the test by inserting the strip into the monitor showing their current blood sugar level.

Learn more about five blood sugar monitors available for purchase here.

Continuous glucose monitor (CGM)

A continuous glucose monitor may be beneficial for people who need to monitor their sugar levels more frequently in order to see trends and patterns. This includes people on intensive insulin therapy and those with widely variable blood sugar levels.

This device includes a tiny sensor implanted under the skin, usually in the abdomen, upper arm, or thigh. This measures the blood sugar found in the fluid between cells.

Some devices can be implanted by the person, while others require a doctor’s visit. A person still needs to regularly check their CGM and compare their readings with a BGM to ensure accuracy.

CGMs measure a person’s blood sugar levels every few minutes at regular intervals. Sensors come with transmitters, which send readings to a receiver.

People can have the monitor clipped or carried in their pockets or bags. Monitors can be a stand-alone device or attached to an insulin pump that delivers insulin depending on the person’s needs.

A 2020 study found that CGM helps people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes achieve their blood sugar targets.

Non-invasive glucose monitor

These devices may be able to detect a person’s blood sugar levels without pricking their skin for a blood sample. These monitors use various mechanisms such as electrochemical, optical, and microwave methods.

A 2020 study compared the accuracy of a wrist-worn optical biosensor with an invasive clinical method of blood sugar monitoring. They suggest that wearable technology can produce results that are comparable to BGMs. However, more research is still necessary to test, validate, and approve these devices.

To use a blood sugar monitoring kit, a person should follow the instructions on the kit’s manual. However, the process generally works the same way.

To use a blood sugar monitor:

  1. Prepare the test strip, monitor, and lancet.
  2. Make sure that the monitor is clean and working.
  3. Thoroughly wash and dry hands. Alternatively, use an alcohol prep pad if washing hands is not possible.
  4. Improve blood flow to the finger by warming the hand or massaging the finger.
  5. Turn on the glucometer and insert the test strip. Wait for the indicator to place the blood on the test strip. This step depends on the manufacturer’s instructions. Some monitors may require a person to put the test strip on the monitor after a sample has been placed on the strip.
  6. If using a finger prick device, put in the lancet and secure the cap. Set the device by clicking or pulling the plunger.
  7. Prick the finger between the tip and the bottom of the fingernail. Do not prick too close to the nail.
  8. Place the drop on or on the side of the testing strip.
  9. Inspect the finger if it continues to bleed. Use a tissue or alcohol pad to stop bleeding.
  10. Wait for the monitor to show the reading. Record the reading.

Aside from regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, the following tips may help people control their blood sugar levels.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise, even daily brisk walks for 30 minutes, can stabilize blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

However, a person should avoid exercising if ketones are present in the urine. Additionally, it is advisable to avoid exercise if blood sugars are high. This may cause blood sugar levels to rise even higher.

Follow a diabetes meal plan

A person can keep their blood levels on track by sticking to a meal plan. This includes avoiding carbs or counting carbs and choosing whole foods over highly processed foods such as white bread and artificial sweeteners.

Learn more about a 7-day meal plan for diabetes here.

Eat more fiber

Eating more fiber slows down sugar absorption and carb digestion. This can lead to a gradual increase in blood sugar levels instead of having sudden spikes.

High fiber intake may help people with type 1 diabetes to manage glycemic control.

A 2018 study also found that taking soluble fiber significantly reduced metabolic syndrome profiles in patients newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Take medications as instructed

A 2016 study found that poor medication adherence significantly contributes to poor sugar level control in people with type 2 diabetes.

A person should be mindful of taking the right type and amount of medication at the time and frequency prescribed by the doctor.

Reduce stress

When a person is stressed, their insulin levels fall. The body releases hormones that cause muscles and fat to become less sensitive to adrenaline. Moreover, adrenaline and glucagon levels rise, triggering the liver to release more glucose.

A 2021 study showed that high anxiety, acute stress, and depression after the pandemic was associated with poorer glycemic levels, increased carb intake, snacking, and the presence of diabetic complications among people with type 2 diabetes.

Maintain a healthy weight

A person may ask their dietician or health practitioner about the ideal weight they should maintain. A balanced diet and regular exercise can help you reach or maintain whatever weight is right for you.

A 2021 clinical trial found that weight loss was the strongest predictor of type 2 diabetes remission.

Monitoring blood sugar levels through at-home monitoring devices can help people with diabetes keep track of their blood sugar levels. However, managing the condition also involves adjustments to a person’s day-to-day routine.