Stay Ahead of Diabetes Home Blood Glucose Testing 101 Homage

Stay Ahead of Diabetes: Home Blood Glucose Testing 101

New to diabetes? Here are the first few things to know about this chronic disease and how to self test blood glucose at home.

by Calvyn Ee

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body is unable to use the insulin at an optimum level. Insulin is an important hormone that regulates our blood sugar levels. Without it, we are vulnerable to severe damage to the various parts of the body. It is usually divided into two major types: type 1 and type 2.

  • Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed by the body’s immune system
  • Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent type, occurs when the body cannot produce sufficient insulin, or the body doesn’t fully respond to insulin

By the year 2025, it’s anticipated that as many as seven million Malaysians will have diabetes. With a prevalence rate of 31.3 percent among adults, diabetes is a chronic condition that needs to be tackled with greater awareness of how to effectively manage it.

To accurately test for diabetes, doctors will need to run various laboratory tests to ascertain the type of diabetes you might have. They’ll also look at potential risk factors – such as age, weight, family history, and more – that may determine your risk level of developing diabetes.

While home testing isn’t able to confirm diabetes in a person, it can still be useful to stay ahead of diabetes by determining your blood glucose levels and allowing you to manage it as best as possible. In doing so, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Recently diagnosed with diabetes? Find out 10 things you need to know about diabetes here.

When Should I Start Testing?

closeup-shot-doctor-with-rubber-gloves-taking-blood-test-from-patient-to-check-for-diabetes

For most people who don’t have diabetes, blood sugar testing is usually recommended every three years or so. For those at risk of diabetes, or who may have prediabetes (where blood sugar is slightly high, but not where it would be considered diabetes), more frequent testing – usually on an annual basis – is advised.

While regular testing is a good idea, especially if you want to keep your blood glucose levels at optimum levels all the time, you don’t have to do it as often as you think is needed. Sometimes, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.

Why Should I Be Home Testing?

The overarching goal of home testing is simply to make sure that your blood sugar levels are at optimal levels. Any higher than what is considered healthy levels can potentially be a sign of (pre)diabetes. Knowing your current level ensures you can take the necessary steps to bring it back to normal levels, which also helps in preventing hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Testing can also help you see how well dietary changes and frequent exercise are keeping your blood sugar at normal levels, as well as learn how various other factors – such as stress – can affect your blood sugar levels. Sometimes, inconsequential or sudden changes can be false alarms; given how the result can influence decisions about your food intake and insulin use, it helps to be careful when doing a home test and to get professional advice where needed.

Wondering which Malaysian food you should eat or avoid as a person living with diabetes? We’ve listed down some of the local delicacies you can indulge in and even some that you should be cutting back on. Find out in this article!

What Do I Need for Home Testing?

You can find a number of home testing devices, or glucometers, at various pharmacies or hospitals where a glucometer might be recommended for you. These devices measure the amount of blood sugar in your bloodstream by taking a small blood sample via a finger prick. You also need test strips which are mounted in the glucometer. This is where the blood sample is placed and from where the reading is derived.

Generally, a trained professional will teach you how to use it so you can do it on your own.

How Do I Pick a Good Glucometer?

You might have to consider the following factors before purchasing a glucometer:

  • Price: The cheapest option available isn’t always a good choice, nor is the most expensive one. You still need to factor in the price for test strips as well.
  • Usage: Is a particular glucometer easy to use? Are they comfortable to hold in one hand? Is the display screen for the reading clear? Is it easy to get blood onto the test strips?
  • Features: Some glucometers might have useful features that make it more convenient to do a home test, such as illuminated screens to make it easier to see readings.
  • User support: If you run into trouble using the device, can you get quick support from the manufacturer?
  • Warranty coverage: Do you get a warranty for the device? If the device proved to be defective, can you get a replacement?
  • Insurance: Will your insurance cover certain kinds of glucometers?

What About Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)?

A woman with a continuous glucose monitor on her arm looks at her smartphone to check her glucose level for diabetes

Source: www.niddk.nih.gov

CGMs are a relatively new invention that allows for, as the name suggests, continuous blood sugar level monitoring without needing to use a lancet to draw a blood sample for testing. It usually involves a small sensor that’s placed just under your skin, usually the belly or arm. An adhesive patch will hold the sensor in place, after which the sensor begins to measure your blood sugar levels via the fluid under your skin. The collected data is transmitted wirelessly from the sensor to a device that displays the readings. This device can either be your smartphone (through a dedicated app) or a monitoring device provided with the sensor. Sensors also need to be replaced between 7 to 14 days of use.

CGMs are handy because they provide results every 5 minutes, providing live updates on your blood sugar level and alerting you whenever it’s abnormally high or low. You also won’t need to conduct traditional blood sugar home tests, although you’ll still need to test with a glucometer to calibrate the CGM from time to time.

CGMs may be convenient, but you need to be trained to properly apply and change sensors, calibrate the device, transfer readings to an electronic record, and so on. Moreover, as the technology is still new, these CGMs can be very costly. The constant data stream you receive can also exacerbate your worries about maintaining your ideal blood sugar level, which could lead to poorer outcomes in managing them well.

What’s the Best Time for a Home Test?

It’s usually advised to conduct a test at any of these times:

  • When you wake up or go to bed: When waking up, you’ll be measuring “fasting glucose,” your overnight blood sugar levels when you wake up in the morning. If you also measured your blood glucose level before bedtime, you can see how your blood sugar level has changed while you sleep and make changes to your treatment/lifestyle where needed
  • Before and after meals: This is beneficial in helping you plan what you should eat, or even how much of an insulin dosage you’ll need. Testing two hours after meals can also show you how your blood sugar level changes after eating – which may inform your treatment plan if you are diabetic
  • Before and after exercise: You’ll be able to see how physical activity affects your blood sugar. It’s normal for exercise to either cause an increase or decrease in your blood sugar level, so testing can catch these episodes for your doctor’s perusal

How Do I Conduct a Home Test?

  1. You’ll first need to wash and dry your hands thoroughly before the test, as food and other substances on your hand can lead to an inaccurate result
  2. Insert a test strip into your glucometer
  3. Prick the side of your fingertip with the included needle, or lancet, in your test kit. You might have to squeeze your finger to produce more blood or prick a different finger if you can’t get enough blood from the initial jab
    • You can use the lancet to stick the side of your fingertip by the fingernail since that area doesn’t make frequent contact with whatever you’re touching
  4. Touch and hold the edge of the test strip to the drop of blood
  5. After a short delay, the glucometer should display your current blood sugar level
  6. Wipe away any remaining blood and clean your finger to prevent infections

Depending on your glucometer or if you have other supplementary equipment, recording the results will be done either manually or electronically. However your results are recorded, make sure to bring them along with you when you see your doctor so they can make changes to your treatment plan if needed.

Best Practices for Home Testing

Keep in mind the following pointers before or after you do a home test:

  • Do not reuse lancets, as they can become dull over time and make jabs more painful. Plus, they can potentially get infected and cause more complications later on
  • Don’t share glucometers as a health precaution
  • While some test kits allow you to draw blood from other places on your body (if you don’t like the pain caused by jabbing your finger), it’s best to check with your doctor beforehand on whether you should do so
  • Log as much information as possible in your blood sugar records: you can include the foods you ate prior to the test, as well as any exercises you did for the day and when you did them
  • Remember that blood glucose levels vary all the time, and the results of a home test aren’t always accurate. The test is meant to help you with managing your blood sugar levels as best as possible, so try not to stress yourself about it (don’t forget stress also causes changes in your level!)

What’s the Ideal Range?

Your doctor will inform you of what your ideal blood sugar level range should be. This isn’t fixed, however, given how blood sugar levels can change due to plenty of different factors, such as how long you’ve had diabetes, the severity of diabetes, if you have other medical conditions, and so forth.

While the American Diabetes Association (ADA) acknowledges that different people will have different goals to achieve, their recommended target levels are as follows:

  • Before meals: 80 and 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 4.4 to 7.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)
  • Two hours after meals: Less than 180 mg/dL, or 10.0 mmol/L

Your specific targets may be as close to these recommended levels, or something else tailored to your current health outlook. Your doctor will advise you on what’s best for your health.

Let’s be real. Malaysians love sugar in everything. In fact, sugar consumption in Malaysia has significantly increased over the past 15 years. Why do we love sugar so much? Get to the root causes and apply these strategies to cut down on sugar effectively and kiss the cravings goodbye!

sugar-cravings-infographic-homage

Causes, consequences, and tips to cut down on sugar cravings.

When Should I Notify My Doctor?

If your blood sugar level is too high or too low for several days in a row and “at about the same time,” speak to your doctor about it. It might be time to make adjustments to your care plan. If the resulting range seems to be an “out of a certain range,” consult your doctor immediately. There’s a small chance that an abnormal reading may be a false alarm, so don’t be alarmed if it is.

In this Homage web series, we break down diabetes with pharmacist Gina Koay to learn more about diabetes and how medications and dietary habits can improve diabetes management.

Diabetes Care with Homage

If you need help looking after your loved one with diabetes, our highly-trained Care Professionals are ready to help! Our Care Pros are able to provide your loved one with the support they need to manage their diabetes and keep their blood glucose level at ideal ranges. Care Pros can assist with activities of daily living, help out with physical exercise so your loved one keeps fit, and can even provide accurate blood sugar testing at home with minimal fuss or frustration. They can even accompany you and your loved ones for doctor’s appointments, dialysis sessions, and more.

We can help provide you with affordable home care and companionship when you need it the most. Download our app now to find out more and start booking quality care for your loved one.

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About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
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