Kent Peterson, senior editor, has also produced award-winning work in television and radio.
Tired of pricking your finger for blood sugar tests until you feel like a pincushion? Wish you could toss your meter and all those pointy lancets into the trash? New research suggests that wish may not be as outlandish as it seems for most people with type 2 diabetes.
A landmark study says individuals with type 2 diabetes who don’t use insulin—and most do not—are about as healthy overall whether they test their blood sugar every day or not. Daily testing didn’t improve blood sugar control, and lack of testing didn’t lead to increased hospitalizations or hypoglycemic episodes—extremely low blood sugar.
“Our study results have the potential to transform current clinical practice for patients and their providers,” said Katrina Donahue, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and professor and director of research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Family Medicine.
The randomized clinical trial, conducted by researchers at UNC, tracked 450 individuals for a year. Results were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Why we test
Most doctors instruct people who are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes to test their blood sugar regularly. How often depends on individual circumstances and which diabetes medications you take. If diet and exercise keep your blood sugar under control without insulin or other medicines, your doctor may say you don’t need to test every day.
But some experts say that testing multiple times per day provides important information you can’t get any other way:
- Identify patterns in how your blood sugar levels rise and fall
- Know when blood sugar is dangerously high or low
- Track effects of different foods on your blood sugar
- See how exercise affects your blood sugar levels
- Monitor how well your diabetes drugs improve blood sugar control
- Understand how other things like sickness or stress change your blood sugar levels
Everyone is different when it comes to these things. That’s why some argue you need daily testing to give a clear picture of how you’re doing, and so you can achieve the best possible diabetes control.
Daily testing isn’t optional for people who use insulin, whether they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Frequent tests are essential for determining how much insulin to take (or to calibrate a continuous glucose monitor every day).
To test or not to test
Why did this study find testing didn’t lead to superior results? Researchers don’t know. That means you and your doctor have to figure out how much testing is best for you.
Maybe you don’t need to see numbers every day to help you do what you already know you should. But others may find that it’s too easy to slack off on day-to-day diabetes care without the constant feedback those numbers provide.
Don’t stop testing or test less often without your doctor’s approval. But if you have well-controlled type 2 diabetes and don’t use insulin, talk with your doctor about the need to self-test. “For the majority,” says Donohue, “the costs may outweigh the benefits.”
Do you think testing helps you better control type 2 diabetes? Share your thoughts by commenting below.