You’re back home from the doctor and the news is starting to sink in: You’ve got diabetes and need to get your blood sugar levels under control. As you wrap your mind around the changes you have to make, spend a little time scoping out the devices and supplies that help keep your disease in check. Each of them plays a different role in managing diabetes and preventing complications.
Insulin, Insulin Syringes, and Insulin Pens
Your doctor may suggest you take insulin to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high. It’s a hormone that an organ called the pancreas makes to help you use or store sugar in the foods you eat.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas has stopped making insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, the organ makes insulin, but your body doesn’t use it right.
Your doctor may recommend one of several types of insulin:
- Regular or short-acting
Each works differently based on how long they take to start working, when they reach maximum strength, and how long they last.
There are a few strengths of insulin, but the most common is U-100 (100 units per milliliter of fluid). You’ll need to inject insulin from one to four times a day, depending on what your doctor suggests.
You can do this with a syringe, which draws a dose of insulin from a bottle. Or you can use an insulin pen, which is either pre-filled or has an insertable cartridge. There is also a type of insulin that you inhale.
Instead of shots, your doctor may suggest an insulin pump. It continuously gives you short- or rapid-acting insulin. You’ll still need to test your blood sugar levels, but you may find a pump helps you control them better.
Insulin pumps are small, and you can easily attach one to your waistband, sock, or underwear. It’s connected to a thin tube known as a catheter, which you put under your skin with a needle.
The catheter regularly delivers insulin from the pump in small doses that are pre-programmed and vary throughout the day and night. You’ll also press a button on the pump to give yourself insulin in another larger dose when you eat to break down the carbohydrates in your meal. This imitates the way your body naturally uses insulin.
Blood Sugar Meters, Blood Lancets, and Diabetic Test Strips
A blood sugar meter, also known as a blood glucose meter or a glucometer, is a portable electronic device that measures your blood sugar at any moment to make sure it’s not too high or too low.
First you’ll use a blood lancet, an instrument that quickly pricks your skin, to draw a small sample of blood. Place a drop onto the edge of a disposable diabetic test strip. Insert the strip into the monitor, and wait for it to display your blood sugar level. Log your results to help your doctor confirm that your treatment plan is working.
Your doctor will let you know how often you need to use your blood sugar meter. If you’re checking for low blood sugar levels, test yourself if you feel shaky, nervous, light-headed, confused, hungry, sweaty, or sleepy.
Ketone Test Strips
When your body doesn’t have enough insulin to use sugar, it breaks down fat for energy instead. This makes a substance called ketones. High ketone levels in your pee is a sign your diabetes is out of control.
Your doctor may ask you to use ketone test strips when you have symptoms of high ketone levels, such as:
- Blood sugar level of 300 mg/dL or higher
- Feel sick or tired all the time
- Often thirsty or have dry mouth
- Feel confused
- Hard time breathing
To take a ketone test at home, pee into a clean cup and place the strip inside. Shake off excess urine and wait for the strip to change color — the instructions will tell you how long it takes. Compare the color on the strip to the kit’s color chart. If your ketone levels are low, retest in a couple of hours. If your levels are moderate or high, see your doctor right away.
Glucose Tablets and Glucagon
When you’re first learning to manage your blood sugar levels, it’s not unusual for them to fall too low. If they do, you’ll need to get them back up quickly to avoid dangerous complications like seizures. That’s why it’s a good idea to have glucose tablets on hand. They’re fast-acting sugar pills you can take when you have symptoms of hypoglycemia or when your blood sugar is low (usually below 70 mg/dL).
If your levels become too low and you lose consciousness, someone else will need to give you a shot of glucagon. This hormone tweaks your liver to release stored glucose into your bloodstream.
Diabetes Medical Alert Bracelet
If you’re in an emergency situation, a diabetes medical alert bracelet or necklace can help paramedics or doctors treat you when you can’t speak for yourself. Many people with diabetes have one, especially those who use insulin.
A medical alert bracelet can mention things such as:
- You take insulin
- Types of allergies
- Emergency contact name and phone number