Everyone’s blood sugar levels go up and down at different times of the day. But people who have been diagnosed by a doctor with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes need to pay extra attention to the sugar levels in their blood. This is where a glucometer (also known as blood glucose monitors or BGM) comes in handy.
These devices track your glucose levels and warn you when it is time to make some change to your diet or lifestyle habits. They keep you healthy and keep serious health issues at bay.
Thus, if you are one of the 100 million people with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States, you definitely need to get a blood glucose reader. And the best part? Since there are so many different types of BGMs on the market, you’re bound to find one perfect for you.
Today, we will go over everything you need to know about BGMs, what you need to look out for when buying a glucose meter, and a list of the best products on the market. After reading this article, we’re certain you’ll feel much more confident about getting the best BGM for your needs.
What is a glucometer?
Glucose readers have one job: to measure the levels of glucose (a type of sugar that powers your cells) in your blood at any given time.
The vast majority of these electronic devices take a small sample of blood and, from it, give you a reading, which is usually in mmol/L (millimoles per liter) or in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).
The best thing about these devices is that they are made to be used at home. All you need are testing strips, the device, and lancets to draw blood. You don’t need any extra fancy equipment to use them!
How does a glucometer work?
More often than not, a glucose reader needs a small sample of blood on a test strip, which is then inserted into the machine, to give you a reading of the amount of sugar in your body.
The test strips have special chemicals which react with the glucose in your blood. Thus, when the electrical current generated by the BGM passes through the strip, it gives you a sugar reading within seconds.
Fortunately, these readings are fairly accurate. If you follow all the manufacturer’s and the FDA’s recommendations, you should be able to trust the machine fully.
Who should get one?
Anyone who has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes must use a glucose monitor. Those who have been told by their doctor that they should monitor the amount of sugar in their blood will also benefit greatly from this gadget.
As a rule of thumb, normal blood sugar levels are 100 mg/dL before meals and 140 mg/dL two hours after each meal (or 4-7 mmol/L and 5-10 mmol/L, respectively). If your readings are higher than this, it is likely that you should talk to a doctor about them.
How do you use a glucose meter?
Using a glucose monitoring system is a piece of cake as soon as you get the hang of it. Millions of people use them several times a day every single day, so manufacturing companies are always looking to make gadgets that are easy to use.
If it is a self-monitoring of blood glucose machine, start by taking out your BGM, the lancet, and the test strips. Then, rub your hands together to warm them up; this will make the blood flow more easily. Before pricking your finger, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap or, if you’re not near a sink, use an alcohol cotton swab. Finally, prick your finger, dip the test strip in the pooling blood, and insert it into the monitor when the machine says it is ready. Your reading will show on the screen in just a few seconds.
It is possible to prick another part of your body instead of the finger, but you should always talk to your doctor beforehand about this.
Other types of monitors work differently, but they’re much less common. Continuous glucose readers work with an implant put under the abdominal skin. This means you don’t need to prick your finger for blood. When it’s time for a glucose reading, simply scan the machine across the implant and that is that. It is recommended, however, that you still use the self-monitoring machine at least once a day to ensure everything is calibrated.
Can two people share a BGM?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommends you not share a BGM with another person, no matter how well you know them. Sharing lancets is never a good idea, as bloodborne diseases can spread from one person to another. HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, and HBV are just some of the illnesses you can contract from sharing a glucose monitoring system.
What is the advantage and disadvantage of glucometer use?
The main advantage of using a glucose reading device is its convenience. Since you need to monitor the blood sugar levels every day several times a day, you can do so from the comforts of your own home. Otherwise, you would need to go to a clinic to get a professional to check them out, which does not fit most people’s schedules.
Another advantage is the power it gives you. You can always stay on top of the readings and know what to do if there’s something wrong with them.
The only disadvantage is the fact that you need to draw blood. Some people get lightheaded when seeing blood, and others claim that the prickling needle hurts their finger. We’re sure that one day no blood will be needed to measure sugar levels, as companies seem to be investing in this kind of technology, but that is still in the future.
Are glucose meters covered by insurance?
Depending on your health care insurance provider, blood glucose meters may be covered. It’s all a matter of reading your policy or contacting your insurance agency to find that out.
Many people ask “Are glucometers covered by Medicare?” The answer to that is yes — sort of. You may get the electrical equipment for free and only need to get test strips, some of which Medicare covers.
How much does a glucometer cost?
The actual blood-level-reading machine costs anywhere $40 and $60, at least a reasonably good one. What weighs more on people’s budgets are the strips, which can cost up to $100 per month.
How long can I expect my BGM to last?
If you care for it properly, you can expect your BGM to last you between one and two years. In order to use it as much as possible without needing to replace it, make sure to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and instructions.
Different Types of Glucometers
There are three main types of glucose readers on the market. Each of them has its pros and cons, so it’s important to read up on them before committing to any device.
Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose (SMBG)
These are the most common and affordable glucose monitoring systems you can find. They work exactly how we described them above: by using a test strip and a drop of blood.
- They are cheap and readily available
- They’re small and easy to carry
- They give you a reading within seconds
- They’re straightforward and easy to use
- You do need to prick your finger, which may hurt
- Not all test strips work with them
- The constant use of test strips can make them costly
Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGMs)
For people who need to monitor their sugar levels more often, continuous glucose monitors are a life saver. They require a medically placed implant under the abdominal skin. This way, there’s no need to draw blood from your finger.
- They work all day in getting up-to-date readings
- Less costly in the long run, as they don’t require test strips
- They show a broad view of your blood level fluctuations
- Great for blood-phobics, since you don’t need to use a lancet
- They require an implant to be installed by a doctor
- They are not as readily available, only with a prescription
- You may still need to prick your finger to ensure calibration
Noninvasive Glucose Meters (NGC)
While there aren’t many noninvasive meters in the United States as of yet, we predict this will change in upcoming years. These readers work by passing safe, low-energy radio waves through blood-rich areas of your body, giving you an accurate reading.
- No need to use test strips, making them a cheaper option
- There is no pain involved, as no drawing of blood is needed
- Very convenient and low-maintenance device
- Still being developed in the United States
- The upfront cost will likely be higher
The Ultimate Glucometer Buying Guide: What to Look Out For
As you can probably imagine, there are thousands of glucose measurement devices out there. They vary in price, features, and ease of use. Thus, in order not to get lost in the sea of blood sugar devices, you need to keep the following things in mind.
Cost & Insurance Coverage
Obviously, the short- and long-term cost of these devices have to be taken into consideration.
Firstly, you need to think of how much money you have to comfortably invest in an accurate blood monitor. Typically, they cost between $40 and $60, but that changes from device to device.
Secondly, think of how much you will spend per month just to use the device. If your doctor has told you to measure your sugar levels more than once a day, the test strips cost can add up very quickly, since you can only use each strip once.
Also, check with your insurance provider if they will bear any of the cost associated with glucose meters. If they’re willing to do it, this will most likely narrow your search, as it is typical of insurance companies to tell you which device and strips to use.
Test Strip Cost, Quality & Availability
Keep in mind that not all monitors work with all kinds of strips. Most self-monitoring of blood glucose machines will tell you which strips to buy.
Even if you find one for a bargain, check to see how expensive, how available, and how good the strips are. This is the only way to ensure you won’t be caught by surprise the next time you need to use your device.
Type of Glucose Monitor
Scroll up to earlier on in this article to read about the three kinds of meters out there. Deciding which type to get should be at the top of your priority list.
If you don’t like looking at blood, choose a continuous meter. If getting an implant surgically placed under your skin isn’t your thing, opt for a self-monitoring device. It’s all about your personal preference.
The more often your doctor has told you to measure your blood sugar levels, the more important it is to get a device that has good data storage. This means that the machine will keep track of your daily sugar readings, which you can then compare to every individual reading.
Some devices can store the data of up to 3000 readings, which gives you a broad view of your sugar fluctuations. Some will even let you mark down whether each specific reading was before or after a meal.
All modern devices come with automatic coding, so if you’re buying a new one don’t worry about this step (or the hassle of self-calibrating your machine).
Yet, with machines using older technology, you will need to calibrate the machine for each packet of new strips used. How you do this depends from device to device, but generally, it is done with a control solution.
Blood Sample Size
How much blood is needed for an accurate reading is of the highest importance. After all, the least amount of blood you need to draw, the better, right?
Each device has a different blood sample size requirement. If you feel sick when seeing blood, it is probably best to find a model that requires only a drop of blood or two in order to work.
The best glucometers are those that are easy to carry and easy to store. If you’re constantly on the go, choosing a compact model is ideal.
Ease of Use
Lastly, pay attention to how easy it is to use the glucose meter. Ideally, you want one that has clear, straightforward instructions. The last thing you want is a device too cumbersome to use, especially since you will need to do blood readings at least every other day.
8 Best Glucometers
There are thousands glucose readers available online — way too many to keep track of by yourself! To help you find the best glucometer for you, we have compiled the best 8 devices on the market. In this section, we will go over their key features, their pros, and their cons.
How we picked them
When we make lists showcasing the best products available, we make sure to follow a very clear and straightforward list of steps. That way, we know we’re showing you the very best you can find online.
To make this list in particular, we first looked at each product’s specs. We cross-checked them with the features we mentioned in our “Buying Guide” section to see if they have useful features or not. If they do, we included them on our list. If they don’t, we leave them out.
Then, we look at customer reviews paying close attention. There’s no one better to testify to the product’s quality than real people. If a product has several negative reviews about a particular issue, we investigate further and may leave it off the list.
Lastly, we check if the product is trusted by Amazon. The top-rated best-seller items are always a great place to start when looking for the best products the largest online retailer stocks.
1) Accu-Chek Aviva Plus
This glucometer is one of the most recommended by doctors around the United States, and for a good reason! It’s easy to use and effective.
For starters, the blood sample is very small (0.6 microliters) and the lancet is next to painless, according to many users. This makes it a perfect choice for people with low pain tolerances.
The screen is also very practical since it only showcases the important data. Within five seconds, you will see your glucose readings show up.
The ability to mark each reading as “before meal” and “after meal” is super handy, letting you keep track of your sugar levels easily and efficiently. You can store the data of up to 500 readings.
Another convenient feature is its long battery life, which lasts for up to 1000 readings. Every time you insert a test strip, the device will automatically turn on. Two minutes after you use it, it turns off by itself.
- Easy to use and convenient
- Its small size makes it travel-friendly
- Good data storage
- Can become expensive because of the strips
- Some customers have a hard time changing the battery
2) Bayer Contour Next EZ
The Bayer glucometer is an awesome device that is very affordable and well-trusted by doctors and patients.
The screen displays information in a logical and easy-to-understand way. The numbers are large, which is great for those with poor eyesight. The buttons on the side are also straightforward and easy to manage.
You don’t need to code your device before you use it. All you need to do is insert a test strip with a small blood sample (0.6 microliters) and watch the screen.
If you used too little blood during the first reading, the built-in Second Chance system will let you fix it in an instant without wasting an extra strip.
The more advanced features allow you to obtain a 7-, 14-, or 30-day average reading, allowing you to track your own progress. You can also add pre- or post-meal markers to each reading.
- Its small size makes it easily portable
- Large numbers display makes it easy to read
- Adjustable blood sample size
- Some people have complained about its accuracy
3) Easy Touch Diabetes Testing Kit
This is a much more budget-friendly sugar measurement tool, as the strips and the device can be easily found in most specialty stores.
You only need 0.5 microliters of blood to get an accurate reading. That is one of the smallest sample sizes on the market.
For those not familiar with glucose measurement devices, the clear instructions detailed on the box are a breath of fresh air. They walk you through the process in a straightforward and logical way.
One of the reasons this device is so popular is how inexpensive it is in the long run. The testing strips compatible with it can be found nearly anywhere and come with a low price tag.
- Very budget friendly in the long and short run
- Small blood sample equals a better experience
- Clear instructions are included
- Some users have experienced temporary inconsistent readings
4) Walmart ReliON Confirm
People without insurance looking for a cheap glucometer will do well using the Walmart ReliON device.
The first thing that stands out when looking at this item is how cheap it is. The device itself costs under $20 and each strip costs less than $0.50, a deal you won’t find anywhere else.
It works for both type 1 and type 2 diabetic users, measuring the blood sugar levels as accurately as other products much more expensive than this one.
Another impressive feature is the small sample of blood required for accurate readings. You only need 0.3 microliters, which equates to more or less a drop of blood.
For added accuracy, you can purchase a control solution for the device. It costs only $5 and helps you calibrate the machine to your needs.
- Very affordable and easy to find
- Accurate, consistent readings for its price
- Small and easy to pack on the go
- Won’t offer state-of-the-art accuracy
5) Abbott FreeStyle Freedom Lite
The FreeStyle Freedom Lite device is one of our favorites, as it is practical and easy to use and its accuracy is excellent.
It only weighs 1.4 ounces and fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. It’s perfect for users who need to track their sugar levels while away from home on the go.
The only strips which are compatible with the device are those made by this specific company, which are a little more pricey than usual. Nonetheless, the black and white stripes placed on the edge of the strip make using them an easy task.
You can use the lancet to draw blood from other parts of your body besides just your finger. So, if you find that pricking your finger is painful, try another capillaries-dense area.
- Portable, travel-friendly gluco monitor
- The strips are very easy to use
- Only a tiny amount of blood is required
- The display is rather small for those with eyesight problems
- The test strips aren’t the cheapest
6) Accu-Chek Performance Nano
Yet another Accu-Chek device on our list, simply because this company makes some of the best glucose checkers on the market!
This item does not require any coding before you use it. It can be used straight out of the package, as it comes from the factory completely calibrated. Moreover, users have reported over and over again that it stays calibrated for a long time, too.
You can mark each reading as “before meal” or “after meal” using the touchscreen display. Since there is a data transfer software for computer, you can download every reading from your device to your desktop, print it, and take it to you to the doctor.
The lancing device that comes with this meter has a one-click feature that makes it easy to switch between lancets. It also offers 11 customizable depth settings for different skin types.
Lastly, the name “nano” comes from how small this gluco reader is. It fits into any front or back pocket and is perfect to take on the go.
- Small and easy to carry around
- Lancing device is sophisticated and practical
- Both the monitor and strips are covered by Medicare
- Some have found it hard to use the lancing device
7) One Touch Ultra 2 Meter
The One Touch Ultra Meter makes keeping track of your blood sugar easy and nearly painless.
You will only need a small drop of blood for an accurate reading. The lancet that comes with the device allows you to draw blood from your fingertip (like usual), your palm, or your underarm.
Results are shown in just five seconds. The display has a backlight that makes it easy to see the readings even in poor lighting. The two buttons located on the side and allow you to scroll up and down through your results.
Inside the box, you will find an informational DVD and a booklet walking you through how to use the device. This is especially interesting for people who have a visual memory and understand things better with visual cues.
- Works with a variety of cheap testing strips
- Fully covered by some Medicare plans
- Tracks several readings but needs to be plugged to a computer
- Needs a larger sample of blood (1 microliter)
- Outdated software doesn’t offer many extra features
8) OneTouch Verio Monitor
This device is perfect for those with poor eyesight thanks to its backlit screen and large screen display.
Using this glucose monitor is easy and any non-techie can get accurate results within seconds on inserting the strip into the machine. There’s no need to code it or calibrate it by yourself.
Depending on your usual sugar levels, it will show a colored dot to quickly let you know how healthy your reading is. If your reading is above your typical average, a red dot will appear on the screen. If it is within healthy levels, a green dot will show up. If, instead, the reading is below average, a blue dot will appear.
The size of the numbers is quite large, meaning even those with poor eyesight will be able to read them. Accuracy is also a strong suit of this device.
The cost of each testing strip is higher than average ($1.66), but Medicare covers them and has a low co-pay when compared to other strips.
- Accurate readings trusted by health care professionals
- Large display screen and numbers with backlight
- The strips are covered by Medicare
- For those without insurance, the strips can be expensive
Frequently Asked Questions about Blood Glucose Monitors
How much blood is needed for a glucose reading?
This varies from model to model, but most only require a few drops of blood to get accurate readings. All items we reviewed require between 0.3 microliters and 1.3 microliters of blood.
Can I test my blood sugar levels at home without a BGM?
No, the only way of testing your sugar levels at home is with a blood glucose monitor. These may be the kind that uses a drop of blood or a continuous glucometer without pricking technology, but you’ll always need either one or the other.
How to dispose of test strips safely?
You can throw away your test strips in the same bin you would use to throw out lancets. When at a pinch, you can dispose of the strips in a common waste bin. Nonetheless, check with your community to see if they have a disposal method specific for testing strips and lancets.
Can I use the same test strip for two different readings?
No, each reading requires a new test strip. Otherwise, the numbers will not be accurate and you will have no way of controlling your sugar levels.
Where to prick for blood?
The tip of the finger is the most popular, as it is rich in capillaries and it is easy to obtain blood from there. This is also the area that leads to the most accurate readings. However, you can also prick the palm of your hand or your underarm if you prefer — that is, unless otherwise stated by the device’s manufacturer.
Are at home glucose readers accurate?
While they’re not as accurate as a blood test done at a health clinic or hospital, they are accurate enough for day-to-day purposes.