Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin properly — or both. This can lead to a higher than normal blood sugar level.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to complications, such as:
- heart disease
- kidney damage
- nerve damage
For these reasons, it’s important to monitor your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
Prior to using meters, people with diabetes would monitor their blood sugar by testing their urine. This method, however, wasn’t as accurate, nor did it provide real-time results.
If you self-test your blood sugar several times a day using a glucometer, or meter, it requires that you prick your finger to draw blood to test. Due to the discomfort of this method, you might look for a way to monitor your level without this tool.
If finger pricks are very bothersome for you, don’t worry — there’s hope. Advances in blood sugar monitoring technology could mean no more finger pricks in the future.
If you have diabetes, there are several portable devices you can use to check your blood sugar level — and not all of them require a finger prick.
Blood glucose meter
The one device that does require a finger prick is a meter. This is the most widely available and affordable option.
To use this device, you’ll insert a test strip into the meter. You’ll prick your finger to retrieve a sample of blood, and then place the sample on the edge of the test strip to check your blood sugar.
Glucometers are convenient because they’re small and portable, allowing you to use them anywhere. Your blood sugar results are also accurate and instant.
Continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
You can also use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to check your blood sugar. This is different from glucometers, which can only monitor blood sugar when you test your blood.
Continuous glucose monitoring, on the other hand, provides real-time glucose, or blood sugar, readings every few minutes. These systems involve the insertion of a tiny sensor underneath your skin (usually in the abdomen).
This sensor measures your interstitial glucose level, and then sends the information to a pager-like monitor, or an app on your phone. An alarm sounds if your blood sugar becomes too high or too low.
Even though continuous glucose monitoring systems place a sensor under the skin, most still require a finger prick at least once a day to calibrate the device.
This is less than the number of finger pricks with a glucometer, which can require four or more per day.
The Freestyle Libre system is another way to check your blood sugar. While this method has certain features in common with a CGM and a meter, it stands out for one reason: It doesn’t require a finger prick.
You’ll still have a tiny sensor inserted underneath your skin with the Freestyle Libre. It’s different from a CGM in that you won’t get continuous readings.
But, rather than prick your finger, like you would with a meter, you’ll use a reader to scan the sensor when you want to check your blood sugar level.
Again, urine is another way to measure sugar levels. This involves inserting a test strip into your urine. The problem, though, is that test strips can only detect sugar in your urine — they can’t provide an exact blood sugar reading.
Unfortunately, this method of checking blood sugar isn’t convenient since you’ll need a container to collect the urine. Also, it only works when urine hasn’t been sitting in your bladder for too long.
Fingertips have more nerve endings, so this part of the finger tends to be the most sensitive.
If you use a finger prick to check your blood sugar level, a few techniques can make the process less painful whether you’re using a glucometer or a continuous glucose monitor.
- One option is to prick the side of your finger tip instead. This part of the finger might be less sensitive.
- You should also read the instructions on your device. Depending on the device, you might be able to prick your palm, arm, or thigh and get an accurate reading.
- When washing your hands before pricking your finger, don’t use an alcohol wipe. This can increase sensitivity upon piercing the skin. Instead, use soap and warm water to clean your hands.
- It also helps to warm your hands before pricking your finger. Coldness can also increase sensitivity. Rub your hands together for a few minutes to stimulate blood circulation and make the process less painful.
- Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the same finger each time. If one finger becomes too sensitive, use a different finger. Or if you use the same finger, prick in a different spot.
- Also, use a fresh lancet each time. Lancets become dull after repeated use, which contributes to finger prick pain.
- If you’re using a continuous glucose monitoring system, you might experience mild discomfort when inserting the sensor underneath your skin. This is temporary, though, and you shouldn’t feel any pain thereafter. If you continue to feel pain or discomfort, see your doctor.
Blood sugar testing is crucial to diabetes management because high or low blood sugar can cause severe complications. If too much blood sugar accumulates in your bloodstream, you can experience major complications such as:
Signs of high and low blood sugar
Signs of high blood sugar include:
- extreme thirst
- shortness of breath
- fruity breath
- frequent urination
- dry mouth
Signs of low blood sugar can include:
- difficulty speaking
Blood sugar can fluctuate throughout the day — especially after meals, after exercising, and during stressful events. So it’s important to carefully monitor your blood sugar and keep it within a healthy range.
A blood sugar level less than 140 milligrams per deciliter (7.8 millimoles per litre), but greater than 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) is typically considered in the target range.
You should check your blood sugar regularly, even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms of a high or low glucose level. Some people with high and low blood sugar don’t have any symptoms.
Even though you can monitor blood sugar level with glucometers and CGMs, the future might provide additional ways to manage your diabetes.
- Multiple waves: Researchers have been studying and experimenting with new technologies. For example, some adults with type 2 diabetes in Europe have access to a device (GlucoTrack) that can measure blood sugar using ultrasonic, electromagnet, and thermal waves.
- Radio waves: Other advances on the horizon involve using radio waves to measure blood sugar (GlucoWise).
- Tears: Additionally, some researchers are working on a sensor to monitor blood sugar under the lower eyelid (NovioSense). It works by measuring the sugar level of tear fluid.
- Contacts and lasers: Other future technologies might possibly include using a smart contact lens to measure blood sugar, as well as laser technology.
Testing your blood sugar is crucial to diabetes management. Using a meter or continuous glucose monitoring can provide accurate results. But you might seek a pain-free method to check blood sugar.
Talk with your doctor or a certified diabetes educator. You might be a candidate for a glucose monitoring device that involves fewer finger pricks or no finger pricks.
Additionally, making a few adjustments in the way you collect your blood sample might reduce the level of pain and discomfort.
Diabetes is a life-long, chronic condition that involves careful monitoring of your blood sugar. This can prevent serious complications such as nerve damage and stroke.
Discuss options for monitoring blood sugar with your doctor to find a device that suits your comfort level.