Monitoring blood glucose levels is a critical component of diabetes self care and disease management. This information tells you if you need to change your meal or physical activity plan or modify your medications. Daily feedback also helps patients understand how diet, exercise, stress, and illness affect their disease.

Most people with diabetes use a home glucose monitor, which measures glucose levels in a drop of blood. It provides a snapshot of how you are doing at any moment in time. Testing frequency depends on the type of diabetes and each patient's treatment plan.

Individuals with type 1 diabetes who are on insulin may need to monitor their blood glucose three or more times per day; those with type 2 diabetes may only need one or two tests per day. Regardless of frequency of testing, patients must correctly use and maintain the monitor to ensure accurate results.

New Ways to Monitor Blood Sugar

The process of testing blood glucose is a bit uncomfortable and invasive and some diabetics are not always as diligent about monitoring as they should be. So, researchers are trying to develop alternative ways of accomplishing this important task. There are a couple of potential new tests on the horizon that use breath, instead of blood, to measure blood glucose.

At Western New England University, researchers are testing a handheld breathalyzer, which measures acetone in the breath. Acetone is a ketone acid that remains when your body burns fat. Ketones build up when there is not enough insulin to help fuel cells. (Though it's more common in people with type 1 diabetes.) Determining how much acetone there is also reveals glucose levels. The researchers hope to test the device with two clinics in late 2014 and early 2015 and compare the results with current glucose monitoring.

Chemists at the University of Pittsburgh are also developing a prototype of an electronic sensor that measures acetone vapors.

The History of Using Breathalyzers for Medical Tests

According to the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), the idea of using breath-based medical testing is not new and for many years, investigators have been building the scientific platform for future medical applications. Researchers have now identified more than 3,000 molecules in the breath and are profiling and analyzing these compounds (much like the human genome) to help them understand how to use these substances to measure and monitor wellness and disease. The AACC says breath testing is simple, non-invasive, painless, and safe.

While breath testing for diabetes is not yet ready for prime time, it may someday offer people with diabetes a viable alternative to blood glucose monitoring.

Amber Taylor, MD, reviewed this article.


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