Glucose Monitor Test Strips

When I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I was offered a coupon for a glucose monitor. Having no idea what I was getting into, I got the monitor, brought it home, and started using it.

The very first problem I came up against was that the monitor came with ten free strips, which did not last long. The cost for the strips when I bought them at the pharmacy was another shock.


There are many things I wish I had known then, so I am sharing these tips I’ve learned over years of dealing with test strips in the hope that you will avoid my mistakes.

First, check the cost
You may already know this, but there is never any need to buy a glucose monitor. The major monitor makers will be happy to send you one free. But which one do you want?

After you have done a little research and decided on the monitor you would like to use, the next step should be to find out how much those test strips cost. Every monitor style uses a different kind of test strip, so you must buy the ones specifically made for the monitor you picked.

If you check the prices online on a site like Amazon, you can easily compare your monitor’s test strips with others on the market. There is sometimes a surprising price difference.

Another tip: It will be easier on your pocketbook if the monitor you chose is popular. You will find the test strips everywhere with no trouble, often at lower cost because they are widely available.

Second, read the expiration date on every batch of test strips
Your test strips have a limited shelf life. It may be a year or more, but if you have several vials or boxes, make sure you use the oldest ones first so they do not expire.

Whether you get yours at the pharmacy or buy them online, always make sure the expiration date is a long way off. Mine usually are good for a year. If the batch is already older, send them back, or call your pharmacy.

You spend too much on test strips to throw them away, which is what you will have to do after the expiration date has passed.

Third, protect your test strips
Blood glucose monitor test strips are sealed in packs and vials. Keep the ones you are not using in their original packages.

Never leave a vial or package open to the air. Humidity can make test strips unusable, as can direct sunlight.

Comfortable room temperature will keep the test strips happy. They should never be exposed to extreme temperatures like those near a heater or window, nor should they be stored in the refrigerator.

When you take out a test strip (or disc) to use it, have a clean towel or tissue under the package, so if you drop anything it will still be sterile.

Make sure your hands are freshly washed before handling test strips, and be careful not to get the strips wet with water or alcohol.

After using an alcohol wipe, let your finger dry before pricking it to get the drop of blood.

Fourth, know how to use your test strips
Some monitors still require something called coding. If yours does, a number is printed in big letters on your test strip vial. Make sure that number matches the one on your monitor. If it does not, you must use the buttons on the monitor to make them match.

Most newer monitors do not have to be coded, which gives you one less thing to worry about. If you can, choose a monitor that does not need coding.

Learn how to put the test strips into the monitor. It is easy to put them in upside down, something I’ve done a few times.

If you bend the strip it has to be thrown away. If it is not pushed in all the way, it will not work either. Those pesky strips are so small and easy to drop. Plus, getting just one out of the vial can be difficult if you have diabetic neuropathy making your fingers clumsy and numb.

For this reason I switched to the Bayer Breeze glucose monitor, which uses discs instead of single strips. After some practice with putting the discs in correctly I have found them easier to use. Each disc holds ten test strips — very nice.

The future of test strips
The monitor of the future does not need test strips at all. It will read your blood sugar with light or with sensors that read right through the skin.

I am watching Cnoga Medical, a company in Israel. Their monitor reads your information when you press a finger into the sensor. I am hoping their product will become mainstream someday so we can get it through insurance.

Continuous glucose monitors can provide constant readings of blood sugar levels, but these are not covered by insurance unless they are considered medically necessary, and they must still be calibrated periodically with conventional blood glucose checks. Many people with Type 1 diabetes are using them today.

For now, most of us will have to deal with test strips for a while longer. I hope these tips will help you live with glucose monitors and test strips. Which ones do you like best?

  • JGEO

    Wonderful article. I might suggest, for those who do not have coverage of their strips, have a huge deductible or some other barrier to purchasing the (over) $1 per strip cost, the Walmart Relion Prime meter. The strips are $9 for 50. ($0.18 each versus over a $1). Accuracy is comparable to the big name meters, if not better.

    Also, using alcohol before testing isn’t recommended because it can influence the test. CLEAN hands are the key.

    Finally, knowing what to DO with the numbers obtained from making oneself bleed can be learned at Diabetes Self Management Education classes, either through a local hospital (expensive if one hasn’t met that deductible or is in the doughnut hole), or perhaps at a local health department (through a state’s DPCP (diabetes prevention and control program). Some states have excellent diabetes education programs.

    I will jump off my soapbox now.

    • Native

      Ditto on the alcohol. Not recommended.

  • nuala

    Readings on my one as told to me by my doctor is always _ 20 or -30 . So how often should one get the test done in the lab?

    • JGEO

      Nuala, that varies. Insurance coverage, type of diabetes, A1c result all factor into that schedule. I don’t have any specific study to which to refer, but I read somewhere that, if you are not to your A1c target, every 3 months until you are, then every 6. But, Medicare only covers two a year for type 2s, I think. If you are still struggling to get to target, a prior authorization from your physician MAY help get it more often.

  • Kojak, RD, CDE

    Working with a CDE (Certified Diabetes Educator) one-on-one, may also be a good idea for many people with diabetes. Thanks, Martha, for your great review of glucose testing basics.

  • Dave N

    ha! with insurance I’m paying $53/100 stips. This article opened my eyes. label says “we saved you $25”. Never crossed my mind to use my amazon prime. $17/100.