Many types of blood glucose meters are available. Here's how to choose one that fits your needs and lifestyle.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have diabetes, you'll likely need a blood glucose meter to measure and display the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. Exercise, food, medications, stress and other factors affect your blood glucose level. Using a blood glucose meter can help you better manage your diabetes by tracking any fluctuations in your blood glucose level.

Many types of blood glucose meters are available, from basic models to more-advanced meters with multiple features and options. The cost of blood glucose meters and test strips varies, as can insurance coverage. Study your options before deciding which model to buy.

When selecting a blood glucose meter, it can help to know the basics of how they work. To use most blood glucose meters, you first insert a test strip into the device. Then you prick a clean fingertip with a special needle (lancet) to get a drop of blood. You carefully touch the test strip to the blood and wait for a blood glucose reading to appear on the screen.

When used and stored properly, blood glucose meters are generally accurate in how they measure glucose. They differ in the type and number of features they offer. Here are several factors to consider when choosing a blood glucose meter:

  • Insurance. Check with your insurance provider for coverage details. Some insurance providers limit coverage to specific models or limit the total number of test strips allowed.
  • Cost. Meters vary in price. Be sure to factor in the cost of test strips.
  • Ease of use and maintenance. Some meters are easier to use than others. Are both the meter and test strips comfortable and easy to hold? Can you easily see the numbers on the screen? How easy is it to get blood onto the strips? How long does it take for the reading to appear on the screen?
  • Special features. Ask about the features to see what meets your specific needs. Special features may include large, easy-to-handle buttons and test strips, illuminated screens, and audio, which may be useful for people with impaired vision.
  • Information storage and retrieval. Consider how the meter stores and retrieves information. Some can track everything you'd normally write in a log, such as the time and date of a test, the result, and trends over time. Some meters offer the ability to download your blood glucose readings to a computer or mobile device, then email the test results to your doctor.
  • Support. Many meter manufacturers include a toll-free number that you can call for help. Look for a meter that includes clear instructions that demonstrate the correct way to use the meter. Some manufacturers offer user manuals on their websites.

Although finger pricks remain the gold standard for blood sugar monitoring, researchers are developing products designed to take the "ouch" out of the process. Ask your doctor about these alternatives.

Device How it works Considerations
Alternative site monitor Allows blood samples from areas likely to be less painful than your finger, such as your arm, the base of your thumb or your thigh Not as accurate as fingertip samples when blood sugar level is rising or falling quickly
Continuous glucose testing Uses a sensor placed under the skin to measure blood sugar level; transmits each reading to a small recording device worn on your body; sounds an alarm if blood sugar level becomes too low or too high Expensive; requires sensor to be replaced every three to seven days, depending on the brand; must check blood sugar level with a traditional monitor to confirm readings and to program the device

If you've looked at the costs, features and other considerations and are still unsure which blood glucose meter to buy, ask your doctor or diabetes educator for a recommendation.

Dec. 04, 2014