As much as we wish it weren’t true, there can be times when the reading from your continuous glucose sensor can be different from your finger stick. While it could be that your sensor is no longer working, there are also several other reasons why there could be a difference. Here are just a few other possibilities.
Sensors and finger sticks measure different things.
It is important to remember that your sensor and finger sticks are measuring different things. The sensor in your continuous glucose or flash monitor takes readings from what is known as your interstitial fluid. This is the fluid that surrounds the cells of your tissue just below your skin.
A fingerstick is measuring the glucose in your blood. Glucose moves from your blood vessels and capillaries first and then goes into your interstitial fluid. This explains why there can sometimes be a lag between fingerstick results and sensor results.
Medtronic explains it best by asking you to think of it like a rollercoaster. The front car is the blood glucose reading from a fingerstick and the car in the back is the reading from your glucose sensor.
How much of a lag is there between sensors and fingerstick readings?
The amount of lag time between results can depend on a lot of things including
- Location of sensor
- Brand of sensor being used
- If blood glucose is dropping
- If blood glucose is rising
- The individual
Are the readings ever the same?
Yes, your fingerstick and glucose sensor can be the same or exceptionally close in readings.
For optimal results, if your sensor requires calibration, make sure to do this when your blood glucose are relatively stable. Calibration during rapid swings such as following a meal or an insulin dose can cause accuracy problems.
Why use a sensor?
One of the biggest advantages of a glucose sensor is that they are designed to show you trends. A fingerstick alone cannot tell you if your blood glucose levels are rising or falling without multiple follow up checks.
Continuous glucose or flash monitoring systems are built to help you track patterns and visualize rises and drops in blood sugar levels. The algorithms used in these systems attempt to smooth out the differences between the interstitial glucose values and what the expected blood glucose reading would be.
Ideally this means that you can plan ahead to avoid blood sugars spiking or plummeting and therefore spend more time in range.
Learn more about time in range >>>
When not to calibrate your sensor
As we have said, there are sometimes when it is less than optimal to try to calibrate your sensor. You should always follow the guidelines of your diabetes clinic and the manufacturer but you may also want to avoid calibration
- Immediately after dosing insulin
- After eating a meal
- After exercising
You can read more great tips on getting the most out of your sensor in this diatribe article.
When in doubt, use a fingerstick
No matter what system you are using, if you feel that the sensor is not accurate fall back on a fingerstick. If you aren’t 100% sure of the fingerstick, thoroughly clean your hands, make sure that they are dried properly, grab a fresh test strip, lance your finger and try again.
If you find that your sensor is not accurate, contact the manufacturer of your glucose sensor. Manufacturers have staff who are trained to help you troubleshoot the problem. In some cases they may also send you new sensors if they feel that the one you are using is faulty for some reason.
Download our free CGM comparison.
Compare Continuous Glucose Monitor options