4 Ways to Check Your Blood Sugar Without a Meter

Medically Reviewed By Kelly Wood, MD
Was this helpful?
37

If you have diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar level is the best way to understand your condition and prevent complications. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there are different ways to check your blood sugar level without using needles. These include using continuous glucose monitors and flash glucose monitors. Regularly checking your blood sugar level shows you when it goes up and down. You can learn how different medications, foods, and other lifestyle habits affect your diabetes. For people who take insulin, the level of glucose in the blood determines the amount of insulin they need. 

One common device for checking blood sugar is a glucometer. It involves pricking the fingertip with a needle, allowing the blood to drop onto a test strip, and reading the result on the glucometer. This method is very accurate, but pricking the finger can be painful. Also, the fear of pain during the needle stick may lead to noncompliance with blood sugar monitoring. Some people may also bruise from this.

This article discusses alternative ways to check your blood sugar level without needing to prick your finger. It also covers target blood sugar levels and what to do for low and high blood sugar readings.  

1. Continuous glucose monitor

As the name implies, a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) senses blood glucose continuously. The first CGM, from Medtronic, received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 1999. There have been tremendous advances in CGMs since then. 

Unlike using a conventional glucose meter, using a CGM involves inserting a tiny monitor, or sensor, beneath the skin. This method provides glucose readings in real-time (every 5–25 minutes, 24 hours per day). 

The CGM sensor measures interstitial glucose. This is glucose present in interstitial fluid, which contains nutrients — including glucose — taken in from tiny blood vessels called capillaries. The fluid bathes the cells in your body with these nutrients. 

The sensor detects glucose and forwards the information to a monitor or a mobile phone app. If your blood sugar level gets too high or low, the monitor or app alerts you. 

Some CGMs require a finger prick to calibrate the device. However, they involve far fewer finger pricks than a traditional glucometer. Dexcom is another CGM brand with several models, including the Dexcom G5 and Dexcom G6.

2. Flash glucose monitor (FreeStyle Libre)

adult female wearing a patch-style blood glucose monitor
Kosamtu/Getty Images

Flash glucose monitors, such as the FreeStyle Libre, involve no needles or finger pricks. The FreeStyle Libre system has some similar features to the blood glucometer and traditional CGM. It does not require calibration of blood sugar levels with a finger prick, however.

The FreeStyle Libre involves sticking a sensor patch on your skin. The patch has a tiny wire, which is the sensor, that goes into the skin. You use a separate handheld device to scan the sensor. The device will display your blood sugar level. 

A 2021 cost analysis of the FreeStyle Libre among people with type 2 diabetes found that it is a potential cost saving strategy compared with the glucose meter.

You can wear the self-applied sensor for up to 14 days. People ages 4 years and older can use the FreeStyle Libre.

3. Dexcom G6 CGM

The Dexcom G6 is a new CGM system that has FDA approval for use both as a stand-alone monitor and as an integration with automated insulin dosing systems. It contains an applicator, a small sensor beneath the skin, and a display device. It has a compatible mobile app. 

One potential problem with CGMs is the effect of acetaminophen (Tylenol). This drug is known to interfere with the sensing technology of CGMs, generating a falsely high blood glucose reading. As well as the FreeStyle Libre, the Dexcom G6 gives accurate readings even when the person is taking acetaminophen. (Older versions of Dexcom CGMs show acetaminophen interference.) 

According to a 2019 review of glucose monitoring systems on the market, the Dexcom G6 helps reduce low blood sugar incidents and helps people lower their HbA1c levels. 

You can wear the self-applied Dexcom G6 sensor for up to 10 days. It has FDA approval for people ages 2 years and older.

Find out how pain relievers can affect blood sugar levels here. 

4. Eversense CGM

Eversense has FDA approval to continuously monitor glucose levels in adults ages 18 years and older.

With this device, a doctor places the small sensor just under the skin. The sensor can remain for up to 90 days. (Eversense XL is a 180-day sensor.) It does not exhibit acetaminophen interference.

Noninvasive methods of blood glucose monitoring

With biotechnology advancements, companies are developing noninvasive blood sugar monitoring methods. Recent technologies, still under investigation, include: 

  • D-Base, with a tabletop sensor that you place your finger on  
  • GlucoTrack, with a sensor that you clip onto your finger or earlobe
  • NovioSense, with a sensor that you place in the inner eyelid
  • SugarBEAT, with a sensor in the form of a patch that you wear on the skin
  • GlucoWise, with a sensor that you hold between your thumb and index finger  

How to check sugar levels in urine

Urine glucose tests can check the level of sugar in your urine. A urine glucose test is one method of screening for diabetes, including gestational diabetes. Your doctor may order this test at your office visit.

With normal glucose metabolism, there is no glucose in the urine. If there is glucose in your urine, you will need to follow up with a blood glucose check. A blood glucose test is a more accurate measure of diabetes management.

Doctors more often use urine tests to check the health of your kidneys, which can sustain damage with untreated diabetes,

and to check for ketones, high levels of which occur in diabetic ketoacidosis.

What to do for a high blood sugar reading

You have high blood sugar when you get a reading:

  • above your target level, which your doctor can determine
  • above 130

    milligrams of glucose per deciliter (mg/dl) before eating

  • higher than 180 mg/dl 2 hours after the start of a meal

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, if you get a high blood sugar reading, you should drink a glass of water and exercise to use up glucose. If you have more than three high readings in 2 weeks, contact your doctor about next steps. You may need to change your treatment plan.

What to do for a low blood sugar reading

You have low blood sugar when you get a reading below 70 mg/dl. Without treatment, this can damage the nervous system and cause seizures. If your blood sugar drops to this level and you are an adult, you need to consume about 15 grams (g) of carbohydrates to raise it to 70 mg/dl or higher. 

Wait 15 minutes and check your blood sugar. If it is still lower than 70 mg/dl, consume an additional 15 g of carbs. Repeat these steps until your reading is 70 mg/dl or more. Eat a snack until your next meal.

If you often have low blood sugar levels, check your blood sugar level before driving and address it if it is low.

Talking with your doctor about your target blood sugar levels

In general, your target will be 80­–130 mg/dl before a meal and less than 180 mg/dl after a meal.

In addition to daily monitoring, your doctor will measure your HbA1c at regular intervals. This blood test helps your doctor understand if your treatment plan is working to control your blood sugar levels. An ideal HBA1c level should not exceed 7%.

Carrying out this test will also help you and your doctor determine the next step to take in your diabetes management plan. 

Do you need help understanding the results of your A1c test? Learn more here.

Summary

You can check your blood sugar level without the need for finger sticks or needles by using a CGM or flash monitor. There are several on the market.

These devices involve a sensor that measures the level of sugar in the interstitial fluid, which is a proxy for the amount of sugar in your blood. Some sensors are patches that you apply to your arm. These devices are very convenient, but they are not as accurate as measuring glucose in a blood sample.

In addition to daily glucose monitoring, your doctor will measure your HbA1c level regularly. This blood test can help your doctor evaluate your blood sugar control over the past 2–3 months.

Learn more about how doctors monitor diabetes here.

Was this helpful?
37
Medical Reviewer: Kelly Wood, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 9
View All Diabetes Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.