If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, blood sugar (also known as glucose) monitoring at home is your primary tool for managing your blood sugar levels, because home blood testing tells you your sugar levels at any given time. Knowing what your blood sugar levels are at certain times each day can help you make adjustments in your diet and exercise routine to help lower your blood sugar.
What is the best way to monitor blood sugar at home?
A blood glucose monitor is the best—and only—way to track your blood sugar from virtually anywhere on a daily basis. Blood glucose monitors allow you to test your blood at home or on the go, and they’re an important and helpful tool for managing your diabetes. The two types of monitors used to check blood sugar are blood glucose meters and continuous glucose monitors.
Blood glucose meter (BGM)
A blood glucose monitor checks blood sugar levels manually. To use a BGM, you enter a test strip into the meter, prick your (clean) finger with a lancing device (a small needle), and hold the testing strip against your finger to get a small blood sample. The test strip is then inserted into the BGM. After a few moments, your blood sugar level will appear on the meter’s display.
Benefits of BGMs include:
- Fast, accurate results
- Cheaper than continuous glucose monitors
- Added features, including downloadable results
However, since BGMs are manual, there’s more room for user error, which may affect testing accuracy. Additionally, some people may need to test their blood glucose levels several times throughout the day, which can be inconvenient—and possibly painful.
Continuous glucose monitor (CGM)
This monitor requires the insertion of a sensor under your skin, usually in the upper arm, thigh, or abdomen. The sensor detects the presence of glucose in your blood and transmits an electrical current to a receiver that processes and displays the blood glucose data. A CGM typically tests the blood every five minutes and can either show you real-time data, compile it into a report for later, or both.
The benefits of using a continuous glucose monitor include:
- Improved blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes
- Potentially fewer daily finger pricks needed
- Easier assessment of extreme blood sugar fluctuations
- More data than what a BGM provides
- You can set an alarm to sound when your glucose goes too high or too low.
CGMs have a few downsides, too:
- You still need at least two finger pricks daily to calibrate your CGM
- The only CGM model approved for treatment decisions is the Dexcom G5 Mobile. All others require a finger-stick test to confirm the CGM results before you take insulin or treat hypoglycemia.
- CGMs are generally more expensive than BGMs.
How to choose the right blood glucose monitor
Your healthcare provider can help you decide whether a continuous monitor or a manual meter is better for you, based on factors such as the severity of your diabetes and whether your insurance will cover a continuous glucose monitor.
Your healthcare provider can also make recommendations on which model of meter to use, though this decision is often determined by which model (and its accompanying supplies) are best covered by insurance.
How to read your blood glucose test results?
Blood glucose monitors express your blood sugar levels as eAG, or estimated average glucose. Your eAG is measured in milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood—or mg/dL. Although the American Diabetes Association has issued general blood sugar targets, always default to what your doctor recommends—your ideal targets may be different, based on factors like:
- How long you’ve had type 2 diabetes
- Your age
- Other health conditions you may have, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)
For most non-pregnant adults with type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends the following targets:
- When you wake up (fasting blood sugar): 70 to 130 mg/dL
- Before a meal: 80 to 130 mg/dL
- Two hours after a meal: Less than 180 mg/dL
- Before bed: 90 to 150 mg/dL
How often should you have a type 2 diabetes test?
In general, people with type 2 diabetes test their blood sugar twice a day: After waking up in the morning and two hours after eating your largest meal of the day. In some cases, your doctor may ask you to test more often—especially if you’re experiencing symptoms of high or low blood sugar or if you need to adjust your medications based on your blood sugar levels.
What to do if your blood sugar is too high or too low
Consistently high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, puts you at risk for a range of diabetic complications—and low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can lead to dizziness, weakness, and brain fog. Both extremes in blood sugar can be dangerous.
If your blood sugar is too high—either above your target level or greater than 180 mg/dL—you may be able to lower it by drinking a large glass of water and taking a brisk walk. If your blood sugar is over your target level or is greater than 180 mg/dL more than three times in two weeks without a clear reason, please call your doctor—you may need to adjust your diabetes medication(s).
If your blood sugar drops below 70 mg/dL, a condition known as hypoglycemia, please take action right away to bring up your blood glucose with one of these expert-recommended snacks:
- Drink four ounces of fruit juice or regular soda
- Eat a piece of sweet fruit, like an apple, orange, or banana
- Chew four glucose tablets
- Eat four pieces of hard candy
- Swallow a tablespoon of honey
After 15 minutes, retest your blood sugar, and repeat this process until your blood sugar level is 70 mg/dL or higher. Once your blood sugar is within normal range, eat a snack or meal within an hour.
What does high blood sugar in the morning mean?
If your blood sugar is high in the morning, it’s likely due to what’s known as the “dawn phenomenon.” In the wee hours of the morning, hormones signal your liver to produce more sugar to give you energy to help you wake up. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the insulin you produce may not keep excess blood glucose levels in check.
Another cause of high blood sugar in the morning may be due to the waning effects of insulin, either due to insulin doses that are too low or that don’t work in your body long enough to last until you wake up. A third, more rare, cause may be a condition known as the Somogyi effect, which is how your body responds when you have low blood sugar during the night—when your blood sugar falls too low, your liver makes more sugar to compensate, and your blood sugar ends up high when you wake up.
If your blood sugar is consistently high in the morning, talk to your doctor, since chronically high blood sugars can increase your hemoglobin A1C.
How to get the most out of your blood glucose readings
Keeping track of your blood sugar alerts you to changes that need to be addressed right away. It also helps you see, in real-time, how different things—like certain types of food, exercise, and stress—affect your blood sugar for better or for worse. This information is valuable for helping you adjust your lifestyle to keep your levels in the target range and prevent common but serious complications from type 2 diabetes.
Ways to record and track your blood sugar test results
Every time you test your blood sugar, record your results. Your doctor may give you a sheet to write them on, but you can use your own method if you prefer. Some people keep a dedicated notebook for this purpose, which offers more space for notes, while others enter them into a spreadsheet or note app on their phone. Some blood glucose monitors come with a mobile app that you can use to track your blood sugar levels, and some fitness trackers have integrated blood glucose tracking so that you can see charts and graphs of how various lifestyle choices impact your blood sugar levels.
However you choose to record your results, it’s helpful to note things like:
- How you slept
- What you ate
- How much you exercised that day
- Whether you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed
- When you last smoked or drank alcohol, if you do either on a regular basis
Making these notes next to your blood sugar readings helps you detect patterns over time.
If your blood sugar is consistently high for several days without a discernible cause, talk to your doctor—you may need to adjust your medication(s) or make other changes to your lifestyle.
Do you still need hemoglobin A1C tests if you monitor at home?
At-home blood sugar monitoring doesn’t replace your regular hemoglobin A1C test. While at-home monitoring gives you snapshots of your blood sugar levels in real-time, the A1C test gives you and your care team a big-picture look at your average blood sugar levels over the past three months.
By the time you have your first post-diagnosis A1C test, you’ll be used to seeing your blood glucose levels expressed in mg/dL. Since A1C is usually expressed as a percent, it’s helpful to know how those percentages relate to your home tests:
Normal: <5.7% = <140 mg/dL
Prediabetes: 5.7% to 6.4% = 140 to 199 mg/dL
Diabetes: 6.5% or higher = 200 mg/dL or higher
Take control of your type 2 diabetes with Forward
When you choose Forward as your primary care provider, your dedicated physician will work with you to assess your health and set goals for disease prevention, treatment, and management. Members enjoy access to resources like our doctor-led Heart Health Program and our Weight Management Program. Forward makes it easy to take your health into your own hands with app-based, 24/7 access to your health goals, progress reports, assessment results, and your care team.