Tracking the level of glucose in the blood is vital for proper diabetes management. Fortunately, the devices available to do that today are easy to use and provide many features.
One of the earliest self-test systems was developed in the mid-1970s. Then as now they used a sample of blood that is chemically analyzed by the device. Since then, they’ve gotten smaller, more accurate and require less blood.
Monitors now extrude a small test strip coated with chemicals used to perform the test. A small blood sample is provided, usually by pricking the finger with a lancet. The blood drop is smeared on the strip, then fed into a hand-held device. In a few seconds, it provides a readout of the current glucose level.
There are several pros and cons to all current devices.
They’re convenient, but they do require a blood sample drawn from the body. That can be uncomfortable and is one of the main reasons that many people will only use them once per day, rather than the recommended three times daily.
They can give inaccurate readings if they’re not calibrated and maintained properly. They need to be cleaned from time to time, in order to prevent old blood and chemicals from contaminating the device and throwing off the readings. But that’s generally easy to do and the results are typically as accurate as a professional test from a lab, or nearly so.
Many contemporary devices far exceed the features available from their older cousins.
While having the convenience and timeliness of a home test is a great benefit, there are other desirable attributes for a good device. Many today will store numerous test results taken over time. That helps compare levels on an ongoing basis, providing better glucose level management. Some can download results to a PC where the data can be easily graphed, making the tracking process even more valuable.
Several models allow the user to draw blood from areas other than the finger. That gives the fingers a rest, since continual pricking can lead to excessive scarring and loss of sensitivity. It can also lead to running out of fingers to use and greater difficulty drawing blood, leading to additional discomfort. Alternative devices, if approved for use by your physician, can draw blood from the hands, arms and elsewhere.
But there are even better devices available on the market today.
Some use a laser to make a small, painless hole in the skin. A droplet of blood oozes out for smearing onto a test strip. It produces only a slight tingling sensation in the finger during the test. That eliminates the need for needles and is more sanitary and safer, as well as reducing discomfort.
Some work even while you sleep. No one wants to wake up in the middle of the night to prick a finger and run a test strip through the device for a readout. But the body continues to function twenty-four hours a day. Glucose levels can rise or fall at any time. Diabetics can buy a watch that monitors glucose level and alerts the wearer by an alarm if a threshold is exceeded.
Still more advanced devices require drawing no blood at all. It senses the glucose level through the skin by use of an infrared beam. In development since the mid 1990s, it was recently approved by the FDA for home use.