5 Factors That Affect How Often To Check Your Blood Sugar

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you may need to test your blood sugar at home. Your healthcare provider will help you understand how to test yourself and how to interpret the results of your test. But you might be wondering how often you will need to stick your finger. Well, it depends—mostly on your medication, your metabolism, and your healthcare provider's advice. Much will depend on the type of diabetes you have and how often you use insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disorder and people with this diagnosis use insulin daily—or several times a day—for glucose management. Type 2 diabetes is more of a lifestyle disorder. You might check your blood sugar less frequently with type 2 diabetes, but again it the frequency of the checks will depend on various factors.

Recommended Testing

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommended testing your blood sugar at least three times a day if you need multiple daily insulin injections. But for those with type 2 diabetes, testing frequency should be "dictated by the particular needs and goals of the patients," the ADA said.

That means that frequent testing is clearly necessary for some people with type 1 diabetes since their bodies don't produce glucose, but there is a little wiggle room for others. All type 1 diabetics take multiple, daily, insulin injections and need to monitor blood sugar frequently.

Some studies have suggested that frequent monitoring is not always helpful for people with type 2 diabetes, specifically for those who do not take insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association in May 2022. Your healthcare provider or diabetes educator can help you determine how often and when you should be testing. Some factors will come into play on how often you test.

Medication

Some classes of oral drugs can cause hypoglycemia—low blood sugar—so you may need to test more often. "Generally, anyone who takes insulin should test several times a day, as well as individuals who take sulfonylureas or meglitinides," said Nadine Uplinger, director of the Gutman Diabetes Institute at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia. Both sulfonylureas and meglitinides are types of medications used to lower blood glucose, advises the American Diabetes Association.

Lifestyle Changes

If you've just been diagnosed with diabetes, started on a new medication, added a new type of food, or recently changed some other factor then you should test more frequently. Such changes might include if you have gained or lost weight, if you are exercising more or less often, or have changed the type of insulin you use,

"Individuals who are changing their treatment regimen should test several times a day," Uplinger said.

Blood Sugar at Diagnosis

People who have high blood sugar levels when they're diagnosed will need to test more often as well. According to the ADA, your blood sugar level before a meal should be in the range of 80 mg/dL to 130 mg/dL. After a meal, it should be less than 180 mg/dL.

A person whose sugars are in the 500s when they're first diagnosed will have to test more often than someone whose sugars were 180, said Diana Berger, MD, a diabetes medical specialist at the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

History of Blood-sugar Control

The ADA further recommended that patients who are meeting treatment goals get hemoglobin A1C tests at least twice a year at their healthcare provider's office. This test measures the sugar attached to your red blood cells over the previous three months. For patients whose therapy has changed or who are not meeting treatment goals, the ADA recommended hemoglobin A1C testing more often.

If the hemoglobin A1C test result is less than 7%, suggesting relatively good long-term blood-sugar control, you may be able to test your blood sugar less often—if you're not on insulin.

Many healthcare providers recommend testing twice a day at varying times, such as before and after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or at bedtime. "Two tests a day over the course of a month can really characterize the glucose profile of a patient," said Stuart Weiss, MD, an endocrinologist at New York University School of Medicine.

What You Can Afford

You can usually get a blood glucose monitor for free or your health insurance may cover it. It's the testing strips that can be expensive—even when covered by insurance.

Don't hesitate to tell your healthcare provider if you can't afford frequent testing. You can also find financial help for your diabetes monitoring and care needs. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) maintains information that may be helpful to you if you need help paying for this important care.

If you're not on insulin or other medication, you may be able to use "block testing," in which you test blood sugar four or more times a day, one day each week. You could also use some other pattern to get a "snapshot" of daily blood sugar using the block testing method. You should then discuss the results with your healthcare provider.

Test Accurately

When you are actively testing your glucose you must do it accurately. Log your results immediately after your test and don't fudge the numbers. Be careful not to "game" the results by changing what you do on those days or times when you are testing. This is especially important if you are doing block testing.

Don't deceive yourself by taking more care with exercise, diet, and medication on the day you're going to do all the monitoring. For example, if you go out to dinner for your anniversary and have a piece of cake, that's a great day to check your blood sugar to see how much you can get away with.

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