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Gestational diabetes: Tips for making daily glucose tests easier

I have gestational diabetes. Now what?

If your doctor has diagnosed you with gestational diabetes, you've already undergone some tests to check your blood sugar (or glucose) levels. Having gestational diabetes means that your blood sugar levels are too high.

Gestational diabetes (along with high blood pressure, or hypertension) is one of the most common illnesses during pregnancy. Although the thought of having gestational diabetes may scare you at first, in most cases it's easily treated.

At first your doctor will probably try to have you control your diabetes with a special diet. You'll have to avoid certain types of food that can cause your blood glucose levels to rise too high. You'll also need to eat less of certain foods, keep track of the time between meals, and measure your blood sugar regularly.

If you can't control your glucose levels with this regimen, your doctor may prescribe insulin, which can either be injected or taken as a pill.

Checking your blood sugar

If you need to check your blood sugar levels at home, you can do so with a home glucose testing kit. Several types are available, but all kits have a device for drawing blood, digital measuring device, and a test strip.

To get a small blood sample, you prick the end of your finger with a lancet designed to penetrate the skin only as far as needed to draw a drop of blood. This can be uncomfortable for some people, especially those who have to do the test three to six times a day.

After pricking your finger, you put a small amount of blood on the strip and place the strip into the measuring device. The meter displays the blood glucose level in about 30 seconds.

In most cases, blood sugar levels have to be measured after each meal, but your doctor may tell you that you need to do the test before eating as well.

How make drawing blood less painful

Some people find that the "pin prick" is the most bothersome part of the treatment. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the discomfort:

• To start with, the lancing device can be adjusted to different depth settings, so you can choose the level that works best for you.

• Increase the flow of blood to your fingers by washing your hands with hot water before using the lancet.

• Use soap and water to wash your hands. Don't use alcohol to wipe your fingers before drawing blood, because it could alter the results and you might have to retest.

• Don't touch food or beverages after washing your hands. Traces of these substances on your fingers could affect the results, which could make retesting necessary.

• Use the lancet on the side of your fingertip, where there are fewer nerve endings. The pads of your fingertips tend to be more sensitive.

• After the prick, carefully massage the finger and push the blood toward the small incision until a drop appears. Let it fall on the measuring strip.

• If you do multiple daily measurements, alternate fingers each time to give your fingers a break.

Other devices to draw blood

If you have to draw blood three or more times a day over a period of months and the suggestions above don't make the task sufficiently bearable, there are other devices you can try. Check with your doctor to see if any of these methods would be appropriate for you.

One of the most common devices resembles a watch that monitors your blood sugar through the skin. You only need to do one prick a day to calibrate it.

Another way to get a blood sample is by using a small laser device that produces a beam of light that pierces the skin. This method reduces pain and discomfort.

There are other devices that draw blood and measure blood sugar levels at the same time, and still others that can be used on the arms or other parts of the body that are less sensitive than the fingertips (such as the thighs). In theory, at least, these produce only a suction sensation.

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