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Diabetics - Here Are The Essential Products You Need

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Managing diabetes requires constant vigilance. Diabetics should closely monitor their blood sugar levels and be prepared to address sudden hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic emergencies. This article discusses the essential products diabetics should have at home and in their emergency kits to stay active and healthy.

1. Glucose Meter

A glucose meter or glucometer is a medical device for measuring the concentration of glucose in the blood. It is one of the most important devices all diabetics must have to help monitor their blood sugar levels at home.

Other essential items used along with a glucometer include a lancet to puncture the skin (mostly at the fingertip) and draw a drop of blood and disposable test strips for the meter to read.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes should constantly monitor their blood sugar levels with glucose meters. The aim is to determine how well-controlled a diabetics’ blood sugar level is while keeping it as close to normal values as possible.

This is important in order to avoid long-term complications from hyperglycemia and sudden, life-threatening complications of hypoglycemia.

Although glucose meters vary from model to model, each generation of glucometers offers new features and improvements over the last ones. Generally, glucose meters have become smaller, longer-lasting and faster at providing results.

Glucose meters are usually battery-powered. Therefore, you should know the type of batteries your glucose meter uses and always keep fresh replacements close by.

Before buying a glucose meter, there are factors to consider. These factors (discussed below) will help you choose the right model to meet your particular needs.

Size and Speed

Over the years, the average size of glucose meters has shrunk. These days, there are meters that are palm-sized and portable. Such models can be carried everywhere and used to measure blood sugar anywhere and at any time.

There are even smaller glucose meters. These models are identified by the “mini” and “micro” in their names. These can be easily kept in your pocket or purse. While they do have the advantage of being very portable, remember that you still need to carry test strips and a lancing device along even with a mini glucometer.

On the other hand, there are still some bulky models available. Often these are hybrid medical devices combining glucometers with blood pressure monitors.

Since diabetics commonly suffer from cardiovascular problems, these heavier hybrid devices clearly have their benefits. Therefore, diabetics who also suffer from high blood pressure may prefer these bulkier models.

Speed of operation is another important consideration when buying glucose meters.

Older models take as long as 2 minutes to provide a reading of blood sugar measurements. However, newer models usually have readings within a minute. Even then, there are still considerable speed differences among new glucometers.

The time taken to provide readings varies from 3 – 60 seconds. Clearly, there are advantages to having the glucometer results as quickly as possible. This is especially important during diabetes emergencies.

Test Strips or Discs

Test strips are usually made of plastic materials and impregnated with reagents such as glucose oxidase. They are meant to provide the actual measures of blood sugar while the glucometer reads them to translate the result of the chemical reaction between blood and reagent into readable data.

However, test strips are disposable and only meant to be used once.

Although most glucose meters use test strips, there are models that use test discs instead of strips. These discs can be used more than once.

It is unclear whether discs provide significant cost-savings over test strips. However, they have clear merits especially in places and at times when test strips are in short supply.

Calibration and Coding

To obtain accurate results from a glucose meter, it must be calibrated first. This calibration can be done either manually by the user or automatically by the device.

Although all older models of glucometer use manually calibration, there are still some new models on the market that have to be manually calibrated.

Most new glucometers automatically calibrate themselves when specific test strips are inserted and the appropriate codes inputted. Obviously, this is a means to sell a brand’s test strips rather than generic ones. However, it also ensures standardization.

The codes required to calibrate “auto-code” glucometers are usually printed on each vial of test strips or on an included microchip that can be inserted into the device.

Inputting an incorrect code or inserting the wrong microchip will calibrate the glucometer incorrectly and produce the wrong results. The persistence of manually calibrated glucometers is due to the possibility of such user errors.

Required Blood Sample Volume

The volume of blood sample needed varies from one glucometer to another. Therefore, although all glucometers need “a drop of blood”, the volume of that drop differs.

In older models, a “hanging drop” is recommended. However, new models only need 0.3 – 1.5 microliters of blood.

Clearly, there are benefits to getting a glucometer that requires the smallest blood volume. First, when the blood volume required is low, the chances of an unproductive prick are also low. Secondly, the pain caused by each prick depends on the volume of blood drop needed.

Therefore, glucometers that require 0.3 microliters

  • are associated with a much lower frequency of unproductive pricks
  • produce the least pain
  • encourage more frequent blood sugar measurements from users

Alternative Site Testing

Because new glucometer models only need very small blood drops, it is possible to avoid pricking the fingertips in favor of an alternative site to draw blood.

Since the fingertip is tightly packed with nerves, pricking it is more painful than alternative sites such as the forearm.

However, using blood from alternative sites is not a compelling feature of glucometers for people with rapidly fluctuating blood sugar levels. This is because blood from the fingertip provides a more accurate measure of current blood glucose than other alternative sites.


Glucometers measure blood sugar levels in two units: mg/dl and mmol/l. These units are not equivalent and can be confusing for users who buy glucometer models meant for other countries.

Glucose Measurements by Country
  • mg/dl – United States, Japan, Israel, India, and France
  • mmol/l – China, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia
  • both units – Germany

To convert mmol/l values to mg/dl, simply multiply by 18. Divide by 18 when converting from mg/dl to mmol/l.

While there are glucometers that measure blood sugar exclusively in mmol/l or mg/dl, most glucometers can measure in both units. It is advised that users stick to one unit because using both may cause confusion.

Another measurement difference between glucometers is related to the kind of glucose level measured.

Glucose meters meant for home use usually measure the concentration of glucose in whole blood while lab tests only measure glucose concentration in the plasma. However, there are now personal glucometers that can calculate plasma glucose levels.

Glucometers that can calculate plasma glucose levels from whole blood glucose concentration make it easy for users to compare their readings at home with readings obtained from lab tests during their hospital visits.

Data Storage, Analysis and Transfer

Most current models of glucose meters are more than simple, measuring devices. They can store results in their memories, analyze those results for trends and allow you to transfer data to other devices.

Different models have different limitations regarding data storage, analysis, and transfer. Therefore, the model you choose should reflect what you want to do with your data.

Glucometers can only store a finite number of test results. The common range is 100 – 450 results. However, there are models that can keep as many as 3,000 results in their memories.

In addition, glucometers may analyze and present these results so you can see how well your blood sugar is controlled. Some glucometers show trends with results gathered over a week, a fortnight, a month or 2 months.

Lastly, there are glucose meters that allow you to export your data to diabetes management software on your personal computer, on the web or to apps on your smartphone.

Alternatively, there are glucometers that communicate with glucose pumps. By constantly receiving your glucose readings from glucometers, smart glucose pumps can calculate the appropriate insulin doses for users.

Temperature Ranges

Glucose meters do not perform well in extreme temperatures. Therefore, if you spend the most time outdoors and especially in extreme weather, make sure to check the temperature range at which a glucometer works before buying it.

2/3. Lancet and Lancing Device

A lancet is a sharp, thin instrument that punctures the skin and draws the drop of blood placed on test strips.

While you can use lancets on their own, a lancing device is recommended. A lancing device is a unit that holds lancets. It is spring-loaded and, therefore, shoots lancets for quick skin punctures.

Lancing devices may come with glucose meters but they are also sold separately. However, lancing devices are designed differently, therefore, you should make sure the lancets you are buying can fit in your lancing device.

Because the thickness of the skin varies from one person to another, lancing devices usually have multiple settings to adjust the force applied on lancets.

Lancets are meant to be disposable after each use. This is done in order to reduce the chances of transferring infections between people and also because lancets get dull with repeated use. However, some diabetics reuse their lancets. This is safe as long as you don’t share lancets with someone else.

4. Test Strips

Test strips are special test media used with glucose meters. They are disposable and a recurrent cost of diabetes monitoring.

Blood drops obtained by pricking the skin are placed on these strips inserted into glucometers. Test strips are infused with reagents that break down blood glucose. Glucometers then measure the concentration of these glucose metabolites to calculate the concentration of glucose in the blood.

Because a glucose meter will only work with certain test strips, you should make sure your local pharmacy carries the test strips required by your glucometer. However, there are glucometers that use generic test strips.

Buying a lot of test strips is not advisable. This is because they contain chemical reagents that have shelf-lives. Therefore, an expired test strip will give inaccurate readings.

5/6. Insulin Syringe and Alcohol Prep Pads

Insulin syringes are used to inject insulin. The right insulin syringe should carry clear graduations that cannot be altered. This is important because precise insulin measurement is essential to controlling blood sugar levels at any point in time.

When selecting insulin syringes, make sure each syringe comes in a separate sealing that can be opened without touching and contaminating the needle.

An alcohol prep pad is needed to wipe and disinfect the area of the skin where insulin is injected. Make sure to carry these pads in your diabetes treatment kit.

7. Insulin Pen

An insulin pen is an alternative means of injecting insulin for the treatment of diabetes.

There are two types of insulin pens: a durable pen and a prefilled pen. A durable insulin pen uses insulin cartridges. When an insulin cartridge is used up, it can be ejected and replaced by a new one.

On the other hand, a prefilled insulin pen is disposable. It comes prefilled with insulin and is thrown away after the insulin is used up.

Insulin pens are more convenient than insulin syringes. They are also easier to carry around and serve more accurate insulin doses. These pens cause less pain at the site of injection and they are especially suited for diabetics with impaired motor skills or bad eyesight.

8. Insulin Pump

An insulin pump is a more elaborate insulin delivery device than an insulin pen and insulin syringe.

Besides the actual pump, the device includes a disposable insulin reservoir and a disposable infusion set. The pump itself comes with a module, controls, and batteries.

An insulin pump provides a continuous subcutaneous infusion of insulin and delivers specific amounts of insulin based on data from a blood glucose monitor. The entire insulin infusion is usually automated.

Diabetics who use insulin pumps usually have better blood sugar control than those who use pens and injections. Studies show that “pumpers” have a lower incidence of complications especially neuropathy and sexual dysfunction.

However, an insulin pump is more expensive than the alternatives discussed above and it can restrict the user’s activities since it has to be worn most of the time.

9/10. Glucagon and Fast-acting Glucose

Glucagon is another hormone secreted from the pancreas. It counteracts the actions of insulin and can, therefore, increase blood sugar levels.

Glucagon emergency kit is essential for diabetics especially when they experience sudden hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar levels can cause unconsciousness. Glucagon can rapidly increase blood sugar levels to meet such emergencies.

Fasting-acting glucose tablets and gels should also be part of the emergency kit carried around by diabetics. Glucose is one effective way of raising blood sugar levels when diabetics experience low blood sugar reactions but before they become unconscious.





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