The good, bad and ugly of blood sugar testing
How many times throughout the day do we ask ourselves, What's my blood sugar? Am I high, or am I low? And how many of us have wished there was a better way to get the answer than the dreaded finger stick? I know, I have.
The downside: blood sugar testing is expensive
Although pricking my finger is relatively painless (most of the time), it sure is expensive. Each test costs me a test strip, an expensive tool necessary for blood sugar management. Typically speaking, the more you test, the more you pay, as most insurance companies limit how many boxes of test strips they cover per month. The dilemma is that none of us wants our blood sugar levels to be too high or too low. The best way to avoid those swings is with frequent monitoring -- which costs money.
Even though your body does its best to communicate blood sugar levels -- with signals such as feeling thirsty when blood sugar is high and dizzy when it's low -- the only guaranteed way to know is to prick your finger. We can't guess when it comes to blood sugar levels.
The upside: blood sugar testing has become easier
The upside of blood sugar testing is that a lot has changed for the better in the years since I was diagnosed. My 1985 meter was one of the first take-home meters on the market. It was ugly and bulky, had to be calibrated, required a large swab of blood and took a full 60 seconds to give me the results. In comparison, today's glucose meters are sleek and colorful and some are as smart as a smart phone. But unless you are using a Continuous Glucose Monitor (a glucose-sensing device that is inserted just under the skin of your abdomen and records blood sugar levels throughout the day and night), blood sugar testing still requires a finger stick.
Dr. Albright, PhD, RD, the Director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a type 1 diabetic for over 40 years, says coping strategies are an important factor toward adjustment, and that more and more clinicians are talking with diabetes patients about developing these coping skills. "It's important to come to the starting gate with a willingness," she says. "It's also important to find balance. We need to change the culture about chronic illness." Balance means something different for everyone, and when it comes to blood sugar testing, finding what works for you is a good strategy.
Testing tips from people with diabetes
- Come to terms with blood sugar testing. It will always be necessary for control, and it's your most powerful personal tool.
- Keep track. It really helps to keep a log about your emotions, stress levels, physical state and activity, mental state, anger level, sleep length and quality, in addition to a food log -- all of these factors affect your blood glucose levels.
After twenty-six years of testing my blood sugar, my fingers are so calloused that I can't feel the soft skin of my children's faces. However, I'm humble enough to know that I have three healthy children thanks to these scars, and so I keep my complaints to a minimum.
In order to live well with diabetes, we have to know the answer to the question: What's my blood sugar?
Interview with Dr. Ann Albright, PhD, RD, Director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the CDC