Learn alternative ways and spots for testing your glucose levels.
If you're one of the 30 million people in the United States who has diabetes, you know that regularly checking your blood sugar levels is a big part of managing your condition. Depending on your doctor's advice, you may test your glucose levels several times a day. While it may not bother you, there are plenty of ways to test blood sugar without pricking your finger.
Scientists are researching blood sugar tests that will allow for a pain-free non-invasive experience. According to the global diabetes community Diabetes.co.uk, future devices may use methods ranging from infrared light to tears to saliva, though all of these methods are still experimental. For those who dread the finger prick, a few options have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Alternative Site Testing and Tips for Reduced Pain
Repeatedly pricking your fingertip to draw blood can result in callouses, and it can also hurt. The tip of your finger has more nerve endings than other parts of your finger, and though many people grow accustomed to it, for some people it may be the most sensitive place for a testing puncture. Fortunately, there are other places on your body that can be used for a test if you want to give your fingertip a well-deserved day off. Other options include:
- The side of your fingertip. According to Diabetes Management, pricking the side of your fingertip is less painful and just as accurate as the pad of your finger.
- Your palm, arm, thigh, and calf, if these are approved sites according to the instructions in your meter. Most meters come with a user guide that indicates approved sites.
Alternate testing sites may come with minor complications. You may not be able to draw enough blood from certain areas, and alternate site testing may reflect your glucose level from 20 to 30 minutes prior to the test. Your fingertip actually provides the most accurate, up-to-the-minute results. Since alternate sites may not reflect your current glucose level, treatment may not always be sufficient.
You can also try these tips to minimize pain in your fingertip:
- Avoid using alcohol to clean the puncture site. Health.com says that alcohol can dry out the skin and make it more sensitive to pain. Try washing your fingers with soap and warm water.
- Use a monitor like the Rite Aid TRUEtrack Blood Glucose Monitor that requires a small sample of blood to get an accurate reading.
- Use a new lancet each time you test (especially if you have pneumonia, kidney disease, cancer, or similar conditions). They can get dull if used too many times and bacteria can begin to grow and multiply just four hours after use.
- Hang your hand down, instead of squeezing your fingertip, to get an adequate amount of blood to test.
Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM)
A CGM is exactly what it sounds like. A standard glucose monitor checks your blood sugar level only at the time you test your blood, but a CGM device monitors your blood sugar throughout the day. The most advanced version of this device was approved by the FDA in September 2017. With the new system, called the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System, patients simply wave a reader device over a small sensor attached to the upper arm to see a current glucose level reading as well as changes over the past eight hours. No finger prick necessary!
Other CGM systems can read your blood sugar levels through a sensor, usually inserted in the skin of the abdomen, but users must still prick their finger twice a day to ensure the device functions properly. There are many benefits of continuous blood sugar monitoring—you can see trends in your levels, receive a warning when levels are too high or too low, and work with your physician to find ways to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level throughout the day.
With more research, the options for blood sugar testing should expand over time. If you're looking for an alternate testing method, talk to your doctor to learn more about what could work for you.
By Joelle Klein
Diabetes Self-Management, Does Self-Monitoring Have to Hurt?
Diabetes.co.uk, Pain Free Blood Glucose Testing
Everyday Health, Beyond the Finger: Alternative Blood Sugar Testing Sites
Practical Diabetes, Non-invasive blood glucose testing: the horizon
The Diabetes Council, Continuous Glucose Monitoring: Everything You Need to Know
American Diabetes Association, Statistics About Diabetes