Guidelines for Buying and Using Diabetes Supplies

Diabetes is a lifelong condition. Because it is, you can have major health problems if you don't keep blood glucose under control. That's why fully understanding how to buy and properly use diabetes testing supplies as well as diabetes medications is so important.

Learning to regularly test your blood glucose level with a glucose monitor and to take diabetes medications when you are supposed to will make living with the condition much easier. With a little practice, you can self-manage diabetes just as you manage other aspects of your life. When you do, your quality of life and ability to be active and do the things you want to do will greatly improve.

Why is home blood glucose testing important?

Home blood sugar (glucose) testing is an essential part of controlling your blood sugar and self-managing diabetes. Your diabetes educator can guide you in terms of how often to check your blood glucose and how to do it properly. Make sure the diabetes educator watches you use the glucose meter several times. That way, you can be sure you're doing it correctly. At a minimum, you'll be checking your blood sugar every morning before you eat. It's also advisable to check it before lunch and dinner and at bedtime. Your doctor may also ask that you test your blood one hour after eating.

Blood glucose levels checked with blood taken from the fingertips will show important changes faster than glucose levels checked with blood taken from other sites on the body. The usual way to check blood sugar levels is by:

  1. Pricking the fingertip with a lancing tool -- a small, sharp needle
  2. Putting the blood drop on a test strip
  3. Placing the test strip into a glucose meter
  4. Reading the blood glucose level displayed on the meter

If you take insulin, you might change the dose, depending on the reading.

Checking blood glucose frequently allows you to avoid the dangerous consequences of extremely high spikes or dangerously low drops in blood sugar. Managing these spikes and drops quickly -- when treatment is most effective -- can save your life.

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What diabetes supplies do I need?

Depending on the type of diabetes you have -- type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes -- you'll need to purchase:

  • A glucose meter
  • Test strips
  • Lancets to pierce your finger for a blood sample
  • Urine test strips to measure ketone levels (for type 1 diabetes)
  • Glucose tablets
  • Emergency alert bracelet

There may be other supplies you'll want to purchase, such as control solutions or specialty items like carrying cases.

What do I need to know about glucose meters?

Portable glucose meters are small devices operated by batteries. There are many blood glucose-monitoring systems available. Each brand and type has advantages and disadvantages. In addition, glucose meters range substantially in price, depending on the particular features you want. Some of the features to consider are convenience, quick response, and accuracy.

Keep in mind that some glucose meters require more blood than others. This is a big concern for very young children or for elderly people with diabetes. Some meters have a larger digital readout -- an important consideration for older individuals or people with poor vision. And there are glucose meters that give results much faster than others, which can make them more convenient. Other differences may include portability, size, and cost.

Today, blood glucose meters can usually provide results in 15 seconds or less and can store this valuable information for you and your doctor. These meters can also calculate an average blood glucose level over a period of time. Some glucose meters also feature software kits that retrieve information from the meter and display graphs and charts of your past test results on a computer or cell phone.

Using the results from a glucose monitor, you can make daily adjustments in:

  • The medications you take -- for instance, how much insulin you need
  • Your dietary choices -- counting carbs
  • Your exercise regimen
  • Physical activities

These results from the meter can be saved and shown to your doctor at each office visit. Your doctor and diabetes educator can then more easily guide you in learning how to respond to blood glucose changes with insulin and diet.

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Where can I buy diabetes supplies?

You can purchase blood glucose meters, test strips, lancets, and other diabetes supplies at your local pharmacy or at online pharmacies. But it's important to shop for bargains, just like you would for any other purchase. By looking for sales on diabetes products, you can find the best prices and save money. As an example, generic diabetes drugs can cut the cost of diabetes care. That's because retail prices for generics are generally lower than you'd pay for the name-brand products.

A glucose meter can vary in price depending on the features and brand you select. But you should be able to buy one for $40 to $60. Diabetes test strips can cost around $100 a month. Test strips are pricey, but you must have them to avoid problems. Checking only once or twice a day can save money on test strips. But first discuss less frequent sugar checks with your doctor or diabetes educator.

As you select a blood glucose meter, test strips, and other insulin supplies such as insulin syringes, keep in mind that there is no cure for diabetes at this time. You will need to have diabetes supplies every day, whether you are in town, away for the weekend, or traveling globally. You will have to make management of diabetes part of your daily lifestyle to stay well and avoid life-threatening diabetes complications.

Will my insurance company pay for the medicines and supplies I need?

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. And it is estimated that it costs the nation $170 billion annually. As a result, 46 states have mandated that insurers must cover diabetes medicine, supplies, and equipment. But you may have to engage in a letter-writing campaign to get your health insurer to pay for certain medical devices. Also, if you're on Medicare or Medicaid, you can check online to see if these government programs will reimburse you for diabetes supplies.

How do I store diabetes medications and supplies?

If you take insulin, your doctor or diabetes educator will give you full instructions for storing it and using it effectively. Some diabetes drug manufacturers suggest storing the insulin in the refrigerator. Yet, as anyone with diabetes will tell you, injecting cold insulin into the body can be painful.

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To avoid a painful, cold injection, many diabetes educators suggest keeping insulin at room temperature while it's being used. Insulin should last about one month at room temperature. Many people prefer to keep the diabetes supplies in a kitchen or bedroom drawer. That way, the glucose monitor, syringes, insulin, lancets, alcohol swabs, and other necessary supplies are always together and available for use.

Always think ahead. You never want to risk being without the supplies and medicine you need. Keep extra supplies on hand to reduce the risk of a diabetic emergency. If you use insulin, you can store extra bottles in the refrigerator and take a bottle out so it has time to warm to room temperature before giving yourself an injection.

Never freeze insulin or store it in a hot location. If you purchase insulin from a pharmacy, be sure to take it home soon after buying it to avoid extreme temperatures. Also, keep test strips dry, and don't expose them to moisture or extreme heat or cold or you may damage the integrity of the strip.

How can I remember to use my diabetes supplies?

The American Diabetes Association suggests trying memory aids. Here are some that may work for you:

  • Connect diabetes blood glucose testing and taking medications to other daily hygiene habits. For example, connect it to taking your morning shower, brushing your teeth, or washing your face.
  • Always keep your insulin and blood glucose monitor nearby. Store them in the same location so you can use them immediately at the proper times.
  • Create a daily blood testing and medication habit by taking the same medication and doing the testing regimen in the same manner and at the same time each day. The longer you continue to test and treat diabetes as a part of a daily routine, the greater the chances of avoiding serious diabetes complications.
  • Set a timer each morning when you first awaken to remind you of the next blood test and medication dose.
  • Make a reminder chart of various tasks you must do daily. Mark off each task -- whether it's taking medication or doing a blood glucose test -- as you finish it.

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Are there devices that can help manage diabetes?

There are many new tools that can help people with diabetes manage this disease just as they manage other facets of their lives. For instance, increasingly sophisticated software programs are available that allow you to track and analyze trends in blood sugar levels over a period of time. These programs allow you to download and store data from a blood glucose meter directly onto a computer or cell phone and then view charts that show what percentage of time your glucose levels were within normal ranges. You will also be able to see what percentage of time they were above or below normal. These programs do more than just help you understand when glucose levels change and when they stay stable. They also let your doctor review the same data in order to make recommendations that help you stay well.

Another way you can help manage diabetes is by using a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGMS). A CGMS is an FDA-approved device that records blood sugar levels throughout the day and night. This technology allows you to use the results of glucose monitoring to make informed decisions about nutrition, activity level, and medication.

Other tools include smaller, disposable glucose monitors that can be worn directly on the skin and concealed under clothing. And there are combination tools that let you monitor blood glucose and administer insulin therapy with one piece of equipment.

What about insulin pumps?

An insulin pump can help you keep blood sugar at a more steady level and may make diabetes management easier. Insulin pumps are quite expensive -- usually more than $6,000. And you must also purchase monthly supplies to use with the pumps. Because diabetes is a life-long illness, investing in an insulin pump may be wise for some patients with diabetes but extremely costly for others. Many insurers cover the cost of insulin pumps, but you have to adhere to some strict guidelines to get reimbursed.

Are there tips to help me be a smart shopper for diabetes supplies?

  • Before you buy diabetes supplies, check for the best prices.
  • Buy diabetes products from a highly reputable company and/or pharmacy.
  • Always check the dates on diabetes drugs. Return any medication that are outdated or that may expire soon.
  • Return glucose meters that are defective. You never know if a meter has been dropped or damaged during shipping, and you don't want to risk your life on a faulty glucose meter.
  • If test strips have been opened, return them for a new package that is unopened to ensure integrity.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on January 20, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: "Glucose Meters and Diabetes Management."

American Diabetes Association: "Insulin Storage and Syringe Safety Information."

The Hormone Foundation: "Diabetes Lifestyle and Prevention."

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