Many diabetics needlessly test blood sugar at home

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By Reuters

One in 7 people with Type 2 diabetes may be needlessly testing their blood sugar at home several times a day, a U.S. study says.

People with Type 2 diabetes don’t need to test their blood at home if they have well-controlled symptoms and don’t take medications that can cause dangerously low blood sugar, doctors say. For these patients, studies have not found that home blood sugar monitoring makes any difference in blood sugar levels. But still, many of them are pricking their fingers unnecessarily.

The researchers examined data on more than 370,000 people with Type 2 diabetes. Overall, almost 88,000, or about 23 percent, had at least three insurance claims for test strips used to check blood sugar at home.

More than half of the people testing their blood sugar at home didn’t need to do this, accounting for 14 percent of the total study population, researchers reported Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Many Type 2 diabetes patients not using insulin or other medications at risk of rapid changes in blood sugar levels are testing far more often than they need to be,” said the lead study author, Dr. Kevin Platt of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“This needless behavior causes unnecessary pokes, worry and costs,” Platt said by email. “More is not always better when it comes to medical care.”

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, is linked to obesity and aging and develops when the body can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to convert blood sugar into energy. Left untreated, it can lead to complications like blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage and amputations.

Many patients can keep their blood sugar in a healthy range with oral medications and don’t need insulin. Unlike insulin, which immediately affects blood sugar and requires regular testing to ensure that blood sugar is in a healthy range, those on oral medication for diabetes don’t require regular testing because the pills don’t cause rapid shifts in blood sugar, Platt said.

Among the people analyzed who appeared to be needlessly testing blood sugar at home, about 33,000 were taking medications that aren’t known to cause dangerously low blood sugar and 19,000 were not taking any diabetes medicines at all.