What Is a Glucose Meter?

Most young diabetics do not realize that the monitoring of blood glucose levels with a glucose meter, also known as Self Monitoring of Blood Glucose (SMBG), is a fairly recent development in diabetes care. The first glucose meter was produced in the early 1970s, but it wasn't until the 1980s that the medical and diabetic communities began to realize the impact that this technology would have on diabetes management. Before the advent of the glucose meter, diabetics tested their urine for glucose, which would only indicate blood glucose levels of greater than 180 mg/dl, making diabetes management a rather inaccurate science. However, the glucose meter has enabled diabetics to regulate their blood glucose levels with increasingly greater precision, decreasing the likelihood of complications to the disease and increasing the overall health of diabetics.

Before using a glucose meter for the first time, the meter must be calibrated per the manufacturer's instructions; some meters require a calibration strip to be inserted before use, while others allow the user to enter a code on the vial of test strips. To test blood glucose, the diabetic inserts one end of a disposable test strip into the meter. A drop of blood is applied to the other end of the strip; chemicals in the strip mix with the glucose in the blood, allowing the meter to detect and measure the glucose.

Glucose meter technology goes through continual advancements. Recently, glucose meters were developed to accept blood samples from testing sites other than fingertips, such as the forearms, upper arms, or thighs. However, glucose meter results are not as accurate at these locations; when blood sugar levels are changing rapidly, these sites do not show the change in blood sugar immediately, whereas blood drawn from the fingertips provide the most accurate reading. Glucose meter manuals therefore caution users to perform a traditional fingerstick test if they believe that they are crashing or if a reading taken from another site doesn't seem right.

Glucose meters offer other valuable features, as well. Today's glucose meter is smaller than its predecessors, permitting it to be more easily slipped into a purse or a pocket; the drop of blood required to test for glucose is also becoming much smaller, allowing for easier, less painful glucose tests and more consistently accurate results. Most modern meters have internal memory for storing recent glucose readings. They can also interface with a computer using a special cable and software, allowing easy interpretation of recent results. Many endocrinologists -- doctors that treat diabetes and other endocrine diseases -- download their patients' meter readings, allowing them to more easily administer appropriate treatment and help guide their patients' efforts at self-care.

The advent of the glucose meter has helped to increase the life expectancy of diabetics by allowing them greater control over their disease; therefore, it could be said that a glucose meter is one of the most important purchases a diabetic ever makes. There are more than two dozen glucose meters to choose from. With so much riding on this decision, it is vital for diabetics to know as much as possible about the accuracy of each meter and the features available.

Written by Katharine Swan