Diabetes is a condition that disrupts the way your body uses sugar. All the cells in your body need sugar to work normally. Sugar is able to get into the cells with the help of a hormone called, “insulin”. Insulin is made in everyone’s body, but people with type 1 diabetes make little or no insulin. People with type 2 diabetes make too little insulin or their cells no longer respond to the insulin being produced. Therefore checking blood sugar levels is so important for people that have diabetes.
Measuring blood sugar often allows patients the opportunity to see if blood sugar levels are too high, too low, or normal. With this information, patients can administer insulin safely and effectively. Checking blood sugar levels is the responsibility of the patient, but several techniques are available to help reduce pain when fingersticks are necessary to monitor blood sugar levels.
Being a diabetic patient means one thing is certain, you must monitor your blood sugar daily, if not several times a day. There are several ways to monitor blood sugar, but the two most common are by fingersticks and continuous glucose monitoring devices. A “fingerstick” is a blood test conducted by piercing the skin with a sterile lancet and collecting a droplet of blood onto a glucose monitoring strip.
Studies have shown that people with diabetes who maintain normal to near-normal blood sugar levels reduced their risk of diabetes-related complications. They do this by monitoring blood sugar levels frequently and adjusting treatments accordingly. The amount of times you need to check your blood sugar levels depends on which treatments you use such as oral medication, insulin, and/or lifestyle changes, as well as your treatment goals. Remember that treatment goals should be discussed with your health care provider prior to any changes you make independently. Blood sugar monitoring is so important and done frequently by both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Type 1 diabetics typically check blood sugar levels four times a day to as many as ten times a day, while Type 2 diabetics check their blood sugar levels anywhere from 1 to 4 times daily.
Ways to reduce pain
The following steps are general guidelines to reduce pain with fingersticks:
First, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water and pat them dry. Dirty hands that are used to collect a blood sample can lead to infection and pain.
Second, make sure to get a fresh lancet. Reusing lancets will make the needle dull, thus making the puncture more painful.
Next, stick the lancet on the side of the finger, which have fewer nerve endings than the middle of the fingertips. Performing the fingerstick on the side of the fingertip will reduce pain.
Some people test blood sugar on places other than fingertips such as forearms, which is said to reduce pain; however, the standard is to collect a blood sample via fingertips, especially if you believe your blood sugar is low.
Pushing firmly down on the finger with the lancet during a fingerstick will also reduce pain. Make sure to push hard and hold the fingertip firmly during the fingerstick.
Overtime, fingers may become callused, which will also reduce pain.
Sometimes washing your fingers with warm water and shaking your hand below your waist prior to the fingerstick may help with the pain.
Rotating fingertips after each fingerstick will also reduce injury to the skin, thus reducing pain overall.
Less painful technologies
Some technologies exist that reduce pain with fingersticks. Some technologies may have mild discomfort while initially placing the device, but there is no pain afterward. Systems like “Continuous Glucose Monitors” (CGMs) eliminates the need for most fingersticks. Continuous glucose monitoring is another option for those who must frequently check blood glucose levels.
These systems are placed on your skin with a sticky patch and check the level of glucose in the fluid under your skin every 5 to 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. It is reported that the initial stick onto the skin is equivalent to the pain felt with a fingerstick; however, there is no more pain afterward. CGMs use an insertable, tiny wire-like sensor underneath the skin to provide minute by minute readings of the amount of sugar in your blood. After the initial sensor placement, there is virtually no pain. These monitors can also send the information to a smart device such as a smart phone or tablet. These monitors help keep a tight watch on glucose levels with minimal pain felt.
There are different versions of CGMs that exist, but the sensor-kind should be replaced every 7 to 14 days. Other CGM systems are implanted by a physician under the skin and can last up to 90 days. Again, similar to the skin-sensor CGM, the implanted version has mild discomfort upon insertion, but then no pain afterwards. Most Type 1 diabetics use CGMs. Type 1 diabetics that use CGM systems state that they are accurate, consistent, and reliable. However, you will still have to check your blood sugar using the fingerstick method on occasion to calibrate the device and confirm blood glucose readings form the CGM are accurate.
For people with type 2 diabetes, CGM may not be feasible or necessary. Patients with type 2 diabetes will check blood sugar via fingerstick anywhere from one to four times a day. The guidelines listed above will help reduce pain with fingersticks. Using lancets do not have to be painful, as long as you follow the guidelines.
For those that monitor blood glucose levels with a lancet, other lancet companies engineer “pain-free” lancets. “Pip lancets” may be used to reduce pain. The needle is fully concealed which reduces the anxiety and pain caused by regular lancet fingersticks. Pip lancets have a self-contained needle which helps reduce pain or the perception of pain.
Overall, there are ways to reduce pain when monitoring blood glucose levels. New technologies are available that make fingersticks virtually pain-free or painless. Continuous glucose monitoring systems are used as well as techniques with lancets that reduce pain. Reduction in pain will allow more diabetics to become motivated to keep track of glucose levels more frequently, thus allowing for a better treatment plan.