Imagine trying to bake a cake without knowing the temperature of the oven or trying to judge how much gas is left in your car's tank during a long trip without a gas gauge. Although it would be possible to do either of these without the right measurement tool, it would also be harder, and you wouldn't have the information you may need to solve any problems that occur.

The same could be said for managing your diabetes. Food, physical activity, medicines, and stress all affect your blood glucose levels. The secret to managing diabetes is keeping all of these things in balance—but that is often more easily said than done. Most people find it is easier if they have the information they need to make wise decisions.

Just like the thermometer in the oven or the gas gauge in your car, your blood glucose meter is a valuable tool, and it can help you in caring for your diabetes. Checking your blood glucose gives you the information you need to make choices as you go through the day. When you know your blood glucose level, you can more easily figure out how well your food, activity level, medicines, and other factors are balanced and what you can do to stay on target. It also helps you see how all of your hard work is paying off.

Most people with diabetes try to keep their blood glucose levels as close to normal as is safe for them. This can help prevent the short-term problems of diabetes, such as high and low blood glucose levels. It can also help prevent the long-term complications of diabetes, such as eye disease and kidney failure.

Most people choose a target range for their blood glucose. For example, they may aim for a before-meal blood glucose target of 70–130 mg/dl and an after-meal target of less than 180 mg/dl. Although no one's blood glucose is in the target range all of the time, staying in these ranges as much as possible will help you reach an A1C level of close to 7%.

There are a variety of meters on the market today. Most are very easy to use and give you results in a few seconds. One of the benefits of monitoring is that it gives you the answer to questions about your blood glucose levels, such as:

  • When I wake in the morning, is my glucose level in the target range?

  • Is my glucose level too low to exercise now? Should I have a snack?

  • Is my new medicine working well enough to prevent high glucose levels after meals?

  • I have the flu and feel thirsty. How high is my glucose level now?

Although most meters have a memory, most people find it easier to understand their numbers when they keep a record. A record helps you find patterns in your blood glucose levels. It also helps you to more easily see times when your blood glucose is often above or below your target level, so that you can do something about it.

Keep in mind that you are monitoring for yourself, not just your health care providers. To keep your blood glucose on target, you need to make many decisions. Some of them are made by you along with your diabetes health care team. Most are made by you alone. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you better understand and use your results.

  • Did I eat or drink anything that could have affected the results?

  • Did I skip or delay a meal?

  • Did I take my usual dose of pills or insulin at the same times as usual?

  • Did I change my activity or exercise level?

  • Did I feel stressed or ill?

  • Did I start a new medicine?

  • Was there a change in my schedule?

Checking your blood glucose and talking about the results with your health care providers enables all of you to make wise choices. For example, you and your health care team can see how medicines, physical activity, food, sickness, stress, and other things affect your blood glucose. With the help of your doctor and diabetes educator, you can learn to adjust your insulin or other medicines, physical activity, and meal plan as needed to keep your blood glucose on target.

Many people with diabetes find that pricking their fingers and keeping track of their blood glucose levels is a hassle. It is true that it does take time and energy and is one more thing to remember and do. It can also be frustrating when the numbers do not seem to reflect all of your hard work. Although no news may seem better than bad news, in spite of all of the hassles, your meter really is your best guide to informed decisions.

There are some things you can do to get the most from your monitoring efforts:

  • Follow the meter's instructions closely to be sure your readings are correct.

  • Keep a log so you can spot trends in the readings and make changes as needed.

  • Store your strips in a dry place (note: bathrooms are often damp). Use your strips before the expiration date.

  • Wash and dry your hands before pricking your finger. Food, soap, or lotion clinging to your fingers can change your results.

  • Keep back-up batteries for your meter on hand.

  • Check the instructions to find out if temperature changes can affect your meter and strips.

  • Keep your meter near where you will be checking. If you have to go get it, it is easier to decide to skip it.

  • Talk to your health care provider and diabetes educator about the best times to check based on your food, medicines, and physical activity. Let them know the times that will be easy and hard for you to check.

  • Talk to your health care provider and diabetes educator about what to do when the results are not in the target range and when to call for help.

  • When you go for a visit with your health care team, let them know what you think of your readings and if you are having any problems.