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For a diabetic, controlling everyday blood glucose levels is the single most important aspect of managing the disease. Keeping the blood glucose at a healthy, normal level helps the diabetic feel better in the short term, and drastically reduces complications in the long term. With the specters of heart disease, blindness, renal failure, limb amputation and dementia hovering in a poorly-controlled diabetic’s future, good control now means better quality of life later on.
Doctors have long known that the presence of glucose in the urine means a diabetic generally has a high blood glucose level. A negative urine glucose means the diabetes is under better management, but how much better? The glucose urine test is an inexact test, at best. So, medical labs have been checking blood for glucose levels for many years. In the United States, this number is expressed as milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), while the international standard expresses the level as millimoles per liter (mmol/l). A rough conversion from one to the other is achieved by multiplying the mmol/l number by 18 to arrived at the mg/dl reading, or by dividing the mg/dl number by 18 to get the mmol/l equivalent.
So, any person can obtain a blood glucose level either by having his or her blood checked by a laboratory (usually through a doctor’s office) or by using a home blood glucose meter. This is a small device that uses proprietary strips that take a small drop of blood and give a reading of the blood glucose level.
Anton Clemons patented the first blood glucose meter for home use in 1971, while he was working for Ames Research Group. Other companies caught on and began developing their own meters, but the 1980s were almost gone before home blood glucose meters became common in diabetic homes, or before most insurance companies would cover them. Nowadays, advertisements for home blood glucose meters are all over television and coupons for them appear in newspapers and magazines.
The method by which these meters actually measure blood glucose is too complex for an article of this scope. However, it is understood these meters are generally accurate +/- 20 percent, usually by a narrower margin than this. However, even within these parameters, it is possible for a diabetic to achieve good control using the readings of the home glucose monitor. For example, if a meter reads 110 mg/dl, the reading could be as high as 132 or as low as 88. However, most meters are much closer to the actual number than 20 percent, and a user’s experience with a particular meter will give him or her a “feel” for how the meter usually reads.
Blood glucose meters come in a wide variety of styles, with many different features. Some meters use individual testing strips, while some models have a disc filled with strips inside the meter itself. Some have backlighting on the readout screens, and some are streamlined to fit in a purse or pocket. A diabetic is advised to check to see which brands his or her insurance will cover before buying a meter. The meters are relatively inexpensive, and sometimes are free. The strips, however, are costly, sometimes at over $100 U.S. dollars for 100 test strips. A person with insurance can pay a co-pay, usually for 300 strips at a time, saving a great deal of money, if the physician will prescribe a meter and strips.
Diabetics in the 21st century are extremely fortunate to have access to reasonably accurate instruments to measure their blood glucose levels. Whether their equipment includes the doctor’s lab or a home glucose meter, this knowledge enables diabetics to live longer, happier, healthier lives.