Blood sugar testing is an essential part of managing and controlling diabetes.

Knowing your blood sugar level quickly can help alert you to when your level has fallen or risen outside the target range. In some cases, this will help prevent an emergency situation.

You’ll also be able to record and track your blood glucose readings over time. This will show you and your doctor how exercise, food, and medicine affect your levels.

Conveniently enough, testing your blood glucose level can be done just about anywhere and at any time. Using an at-home blood sugar meter or blood glucose monitor, you can test your blood and have a reading in as little as a minute or two. Learn more about choosing a glucose meter.

Whether you test several times a day or only once, following a testing routine will help you prevent infection, return true results, and better monitor your blood sugar. Here’s a step-by-step routine you can follow:

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  1. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Then dry them well with a clean towel. If you use an alcohol swab, be sure to let the area dry completely before testing.
  2. Prepare a clean lancet device by inserting a clean needle. This is a spring-loaded device that holds the needle, and it’s what you’ll use to prick the end of your finger.
  3. Remove one test strip from your bottle or box of strips. Be sure to close the bottle or box completely to avoid contaminating the other strips with dirt or moisture.
  4. All modern meters have you insert the strip into the meter before you collect blood, so you can add the blood sample to the strip when it’s in the meter. With some older meters, you put the blood on the strip first, and then put the strip in the meter.
  5. Stick the side of your fingertip with the lancet. Some blood sugar machines allow for testing from different sites on your body, such as your arm. Read your device’s manual to make sure you’re drawing blood from the correct place.
  6. Wipe off the first drop of blood, and then collect a drop of blood on the test strip, making sure you have an adequate amount for a reading. Be careful to let only the blood, not your skin, touch the strip. Residue from food or medication may affect the test’s results.
  7. Stop the bleeding by holding a clean cotton ball or gauze pad on the area where you used the lancet. Apply pressure until the bleeding has stopped.

1. Keep your meter and supplies with you at all times

This includes lancets, alcohol swabs, testing strips, and anything else you use to monitor your blood sugar.

2. Keep track of your testing strips

Make sure your strips aren’t expired. Out-of-date strips aren’t guaranteed to return true results. Old strips and inaccurate results may affect your daily log of blood glucose numbers, and your doctor may think there’s a problem when there really isn’t.

Also, keep the strips out of sunlight and away from moisture. It’s best to keep them at room temperature or cooler, but not freezing.

3. Establish a routine for how often and when you should test your blood sugar

Work with your doctor to plan your routine. They may suggest checking it while you’re fasting, before and after meals, or before bedtime. Each person’s situation is different, so it’s important to decide on an arrangement that will work for you.

When you’ve set that schedule, make checking your blood part of your daily routine. Build it into your day. Many meters have alarms you can set to help you to remember to test. When testing becomes a part of your day, you’ll be less likely to forget.

4. Don’t assume that your meter is correct

Most meters come with a control solution that allows you to test to see how accurate your meter and strips are.

Take your blood glucose meter to your next doctor’s appointment. Compare your results with those of their machine to see if there are any discrepancies.

5. Create a journal to log your blood sugar each time you test it

There are also apps available that can help you track this information and keep a running tally of your average blood sugar. You may also want to record the time of day you’re testing and how long it’s been since you last ate.

This information will help your doctor track your blood sugar and can be important when diagnosing what’s causing your blood sugar to spike.

6. Take steps to prevent infection

To avoid infection, practice the strategies advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safe injections. Don’t share your blood sugar monitoring equipment with anyone else, dispose of the lancet and strip after each use, and be careful to wait until your finger has stopped bleeding to resume your activities.

Frequent and repeated testing can cause sore fingertips. Here are a few suggestions that may help prevent this:

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  • Don’t reuse a lancet. They can become dull, which may make pricking your finger more painful.
  • Be sure to prick the side of your finger, not the pad. Pricking the end of your finger can be more painful.
  • Though it may be a tempting way to produce more blood quickly, don’t squeeze your fingertip vigorously. Instead, hang your hand and arm down, allowing blood to pool in your fingertips. In addition:
    • You can help increase blood flow by washing your hands with warm water.
    • If you still have too little blood, you can squeeze your finger, but start at the part closest to your palm, and work your way down your finger until you have enough.
    • Don’t test on the same finger each time. As part of your routine, establish which finger you’ll use and when. This way, you’ll never repeat testing on the same finger during the same day.
    • If a finger becomes sore anyway, avoid prolonging the pain by not using it for several days. Use a different finger if possible.
    • If you have chronic finger pain as a result of testing, see your doctor about changing glucose monitors. Some monitors can use blood drawn from other parts of your body.

Being asked by your doctor to monitor your glucose levels is an important part of the diagnostic process. Remember that many things can affect your blood sugar, including:

  • what and when you’ve last eaten
  • what time of day you check your blood sugar
  • your hormone levels
  • infection or illness
  • your medication

Be mindful of the “dawn phenomenon,” a surge of hormones that happens around 4:00 a.m. for most people. This can also affect glucose levels.

Speak to your doctor about any concerns or questions you have before starting your routine of blood sugar monitoring. If your blood glucose result is wildly different each day in spite of consistent testing behavior, there may be something wrong with your monitor or the way that you’re taking the test.

Health conditions such as diabetes and hypoglycemia will obviously have a big impact on your blood sugar levels. Pregnancy can also affect your blood sugar, which sometimes results in gestational diabetes for the duration of the pregnancy.

The American Diabetes Association points out that every person’s recommended blood sugar level is different and is based on several health factors. But, in general, the target range for glucose levels in diabetes is 80 to 130 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dl) before eating and less than 180 mg/dl after a meal.

If your glucose levels don’t fall within the normal range, you and your doctor will need to make a plan to determine the reason why. Additional testing for diabetes, hypoglycemia, certain medical conditions, and other endocrine issues may be necessary to identify why your blood sugar is too high or too low.

Continue to monitor your blood glucose levels while you wait on test appointments or test results. If you experience any of the following symptoms, let your doctor know right away:

  • unexplained dizziness
  • sudden-onset migraines
  • swelling
  • loss of feeling in your feet or hands

Monitoring your blood glucose level yourself is fairly straightforward and easy to do. Though the idea of taking a sample of your own blood each day makes some people squeamish, the modern spring-loaded lancet monitors make the process simple and nearly painless. Logging your blood glucose levels can be part of a healthy diabetes maintenance or dietary routine.