Diabetes type 1

Doing blood glucose tests - 'the finger pricking'

The point of all treatment for Type 1 diabetes is to keep the level of glucose in your bloodstream as close as possible to normal. The nearer you get to achieving this, the better you will feel, especially in the long term.

What do the results of a blood glucose test tell you?
When you do a blood test you are measuring whether your previous insulin dose was right for you. For example, doing a test just before lunch will tell you how your morning injection of fast-acting insulin matched the carbohydrate you ate for breakfast. It's important to remember that lots of other things, like exercise, can affect the way insulin works, and a blood test can help you understand that and learn what your body does. People are usually recommended to test before each meal and before bed, and more often when they are ill because illness can sometimes make blood sugar rise very quickly. You should always test before driving, to make sure your blood sugar is not too low (hypo).

Among the young people we talked to, the number of blood tests they did per day varied. In this summary young people talked about their reasons for checking their blood glucose levels more often than their doctors recommended, for doing them regularly, less often or not at all.

Doing regular blood glucose tests
Some of the young people we talked to have always tested their blood glucose regularly and this pattern hasn't change since diagnosis. Their main attitude is that it's something they have to do if they want to control their diabetes. Those who inject insulin every time they eat know that it's very important to check their glucose levels, to see how much insulin they need. They tend not to find anything difficult or unpleasant about doing the test. A few of them keep a diary to record their glucose results. A lot of the young people we talked to said that they find it more difficult to do a finger prick than to do an insulin injection. Some young people talked about what they do in order to avoid discomfort and damage to their fingers.

Many young people indicated that the number of glucose tests they do in a day changes depending on how they feel. Some young people said that they do more daily tests than what is expected because they find it difficult to tell if they are going low or high. One teenager said that he tests 1 to 12 times per day depending on how he feels. Last year he was experiencing lots of hypos and is trying hard to avoid them. 

Sometimes young people have to look closely at their blood glucose levels. Sometimes you need to do lots of blood tests to find out whether or not your current insulin regimen is working properly. One young woman had a period in which she was doing very frequent glucose tests to find out if her insulin routine was the right one for her. Young people who do strenuous sports like rugby or football said that they need an accurate picture of their blood glucose levels because when playing or training they use large amounts of sugar in short periods of time. Young people also said that they increased the number of blood glucose tests they were doing daily while their diet was being supervised by their doctor. (See also 'Diet and diabetes'.)

Doing less blood glucose tests than before
Some of the young people we talked to said they don't test as often as they did a few years ago. This was mainly because they'd lived with diabetes for several years and understand how much insulin they need for a particular type of food. Also because they feel their diabetes is well controlled and their glucose tests aren't telling them anything they don't already know. Others said that testing is time consuming and iot's a nuisance to do them, particularly at school or when with friends. Those who've lived with Type 1 diabetes for years said that they don't need to 'prick' their fingers to know if they are going low or high because they've learned to recognise the warning signs. Others only did blood glucose tests regularly when they were changing from one insulin routine to another in order to check that the transition was going smoothly. A few said that they don't do their glucose tests everyday but 'they are working' towards it.

Feeling like a "human pin cushion"
Many young people said that, until recently, they weren't doing their glucose tests regularly or at all. Some of those diagnosed as children had stopped doing them in their early teens because they 'rebelled' against it, their fingers began to hurt every time they pricked them or because they 'hated' doing them. Some teenagers described it as feeling like a 'human pin cushion' while others found it difficult to do a test at school.

Many of the young people we talked to have started doing daily glucose tests again because as they put it they simply 'grew up' and want to live a healthy life. They also said that the new testing machines have made testing easier. A few young people however, have already developed complications due to long periods of high blood sugar in the past. One such young person, diagnosed at the age of three said that until a year ago she never did a test, the few glucose tests she had were done by her mother, she had a phobia of the testing machine. Last year she was told that she has several diabetes-related complications including scleroderma diabeticorum which basically means thickening of the skin and happened because she used to run high blood glucose over prolonged periods of time. (See also 'Managing diabetes as a teenager', 'Hypos' and 'Highs'.)

A few young people have stopped doing glucose tests altogether. One young woman said that 'she got out of the habit of doing them'. She relies on her HbA1c test which is done every six months at the hospital to check how well she is doing. In fact, several young people relied, or are relying, on their HbA1c tests alone to assess how well they are controlling their diabetes.

One young man finds it very difficult to do his glucose tests despite the fact that sometimes he doesn't feel well at all. 

Awareness of long term complications
In general, young people who are doing or aiming to do at least two glucose tests a day do so because they are thinking about long term complications and their own personal goals. They don't want their diabetes to spoil their future plans. Some young women said that they would like to have children in the future and for that they need to be healthy. Others wanted to travel or live abroad. They think glucose tests have a very important and integral part in controlling their diabetes well, not just for now but for their future. As one woman said “I want to be healthy in my old age”. 

Last reviewed November 2014.

Last updated November 2014.

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