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Devices to self-monitor your blood sugar

7-minute read

Key facts

  • If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, blood glucose monitoring helps you keep your glucose levels within a target range by balancing food, exercise and insulin.
  • It’s important to keep your blood glucose level in the right range to help reduce your chances of developing complications of diabetes.
  • A range of testing and monitoring equipment is available to help you manage your diabetes.
  • Your doctor or diabetes nurse or educator can advise you on the most appropriate equipment for you in your situation.
  • Blood glucose self-monitoring is not usually recommended for people with type 2 diabetes who are only taking oral diabetes medicines.

What equipment is available to monitor blood sugar levels?

If you have diabetes, testing your blood glucose (blood sugar) level is the only accurate way of knowing whether it is too high or low. You cannot accurately judge your blood sugar level just by how you feel.

Not all people with diabetes need to self-monitor blood glucose. Mostly it is for patients using insulin or if you have gestational diabetes. Your doctor or diabetes nurse educator will advise whether you need to self-monitor your blood glucose levels.

You can check your blood sugar level using the following equipment:

  • Blood glucose meter— a finger-prick device is used to draw a drop of blood from your finger, which you put on a special stick. You then use the meter to see how much glucose is in your blood.
  • Flash glucose monitoring— this system uses sensor technology to test glucose levels, without needing to prick a finger. A sensor worn on the back of the arm connects to a reader or mobile phone application, which stores your glucose levels day and night.
  • Continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM)— a sensor is placed under the skin, which measures your glucose levels 24 hours a day. CGM is useful for people who need close monitoring of their blood glucose levels. The full cost, including consumables (sensors), is around $5,000 per year for people who are not eligible for a National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) subsidy.

Many blood glucose monitoring products are subsidised by the NDSS, including needles, syringes, blood glucose monitoring strips, urine monitoring strips and insulin pump consumables. They are available from NDSS Access Points, usually your local community pharmacy.

What equipment is available to test for ketones?

Not all people with diabetes need to test for ketones. Mostly it is for patients using insulin. Your doctor or diabetes nurse educator will advise whether you need to.

If you need to test for ketones, you can use:

  • Testing strips or sticks— these are dipped into your urine and change colour to show the amount of ketones in your body.
  • Blood test meters— these test for ketones in your blood, and work in a similar way to blood glucose testing.

What problems might I have with testing and monitoring equipment?

If you have a problem using your diabetes equipment, or if it breaks or becomes faulty, check the manufacturer’s user manual or contact its customer care department. Your doctor, diabetes nurse or educator or pharmacist will also be able to advise you.

Blood glucose meters

Blood glucose meters can stop working properly if:

  • the meter gets old, too hot, damp or dirty
  • the batteries need replacing or recharging
  • the testing strips are out of date
  • the calibration code is incorrect
  • you are using the wrong strip for the meter
  • there isn't enough blood on the strip, or the strip has been inserted the wrong way
  • there was something sweet on your hands before you did the test

To avoid problems with your blood glucose meter:

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions on caring for and using the device correctly.
  • Before testing, wash your hands with soap, then rinse and dry them. Dirt can cause an inaccurate reading.
  • Always check you have the right strip for the meter and that is has been inserted correctly.
  • Each time you visit your doctor or diabetes nurse educator, use your device while you are there. See if the readings it gives you match the readings taken by the doctor.

Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM)

When using CGM, the sensor must be removed and a new one placed in a different part of the body once a week.

If you use a CGM, you will still need to check your blood sugar level regularly using a finger prick blood test to calibrate your CGM. This means checking that your blood level readings match, to ensure your CGM is measuring properly. Check with your diabetes nurse educator how often you need to calibrate your CGM and in which other situations you may need to do a finger prick blood test.

Flash glucose monitoring

It is important to ensure your skin is clean and dry before applying the flash glucose monitor or it may not work correctly. Some activities, such as swimming or exercising can also make it difficult to keep the sensor attached. If you are having difficulties, ask your diabetes nurse educator for advice.

Tips for using flash glucose monitoring correctly can be found at diabetes australia.

Other equipment problems

Other equipment problems may include:

  • Battery failure— batteries for diabetes equipment can usually be bought from any shop that sells a range of batteries. Check the meter instruction manual for the type of battery needed and how to replace it.
  • Running out of blood glucose or urine test strips— subsidised testing strips are available on the NDSS, but can also be bought from a pharmacy in an emergency.
  • Incorrect readings— if you are worried that your meter is not giving correct readings, reset it by following the instructions in the user manual. If you are still worried, contact the manufacturer’s helpline.

Managing my diabetes – video

Watch this video to learn how to manage your diabetes. The video is available in multiple languages.

Resources and support

  • diabetes australia provides support and healthy eating guidelines for both adults and children.
  • Your doctor may also advise that you need regular HbA1c blood testing, to check how your blood glucose levels have been over the last few months.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2022

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