Blood glucose meters

You can use the meter to routinely check your sugar level.

If you have diabetes, you may use a blood glucose meter to routinely check your blood sugar at home — but is it accurate? Depends on whether you think a 20 percent margin of error is precise or not. That’s the margin allowed by international standards — and by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which worries some experts since inaccurate readings can set patients up to a host of potential problems, such as seizures, unconsciousness and coma.

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American Diabetes Association

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Diabetes Association have all called upon the FDA to tighten the regulations. So have plenty of diabetes bloggers, like Kerri Sparling at SixUntilMe.com. “I base EVERYTHING I do, diabetes-wise, on the information provided by my glucose meter,” wrote Sparling, who was eight months pregnant at the time and had to keep her blood sugar under tight control. “I don’t care if my meter comes in 15 colors and can juggle knives — it needs to be ACCURATE.”

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Agency officials say they can tighten the rules of the United States anyway.

Recently, the FDA did start pressing for stricter international standards. Agency officials say they may tighten U.S. rules regardless. They held a public meeting on the issue in March 2010, where doctors, nurses, patients, meter manufacturers and others all testified what they think the allowable margin of error for blood glucose meters should be. The FDA hasn’t yet made a final ruling.

Meanwhile, a few independent tests — including one published at MensHealth.com and another in the journal Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics — find that some glucose meters are more accurate than others.

The bottom line: Whichever meter you choose, keep on testing. “Almost all current meters are accurate enough to help you make good decisions about your therapy,” Indiana University medical professor David Marrero tells Diabetes Forecast, a publication of the American Diabetes Association. And study after study shows that diabetics who monitor their glucose stay healthier than those who don’t. The Mayo Clinic says, “When you have diabetes, blood sugar testing is the most important thing you can do to feel your best and prevent long-term complications” like kidney failure and blindness.

To find a meter that’s affordable and easy to use, check out our blood glucose meters report.

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