As of 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, the FDA received reports of 13 deaths because glucose meters and GDH-PQQ test strips misread blood sugar levels. Those people were taking certain sugar-containing therapies -- mostly a kidney dialysis solution -- that fooled the meter into thinking their blood glucose was high enough, when in reality it was fatally low.
This only happens to people on sugar-containing products and only with certain brands of test strips, including some strips under the popular Accu-Chek brand. These monitors use a type of test strip known as GDH-PQQ (glucose dehydrogenase pyrroloquinoline quinone) that can't tell the difference between glucose and other sugars.
The following glucose meters use GDH-PQQ strips, according to the most recent information available from the FDA and manufacturers:
If you take any of the following products, the FDA advises to never use the GDH-PQQ meters listed above:
FreeStyle Lite test strips -- used with the FreeStyle Lite (Est. $25) and FreeStyle Freedom Lite (Est. $20) blood glucose meters -- were included in the original FDA alert, but these strips are now made without GDH-PQQ. The FreeStyle Lite strips available today are safe to use with sugar-containing drugs.
Accu-Chek Aviva test strips remain unsafe to use with sugar-containing therapies, but the manufacturer states that Accu-Chek's Aviva Plus test strips, when paired with the Accu-Chek Aviva meter, will deliver accurate results in the presence of maltose. They say this makes the combination of the Accu-Chek Aviva meter and Accu-Chek Aviva Plus test strips suitable for use by people on peritoneal dialysis, those using solutions containing icodextrin, and people receiving therapy that contains maltose or metabolizes to maltose.
The manufacturer's website offers links to more information about icodextrin and blood glucose testing. If you're ever in doubt about whether a particular blood glucose monitoring system is safe for you, you should consult your medical provider.
See the FDA alert for more information.
For now, pricking your finger and daubing a drop of blood onto a test strip remains a fact of life if you have diabetes. But several manufacturers are working hard to change that -- from Grove Instruments' spectroscopic technology to a non-invasive Israeli-developed device that measures changes in your skin color.
Researchers at Purdue are also working on a biosensor to measure glucose levels in other bodily fluids including saliva and tears, while "further out" research pursues everything from tattoos to contact lenses as a means of testing your blood sugar levels. The one thing all of these groundbreaking methods have in common, however, is that they're not yet available for purchase in the United States (and in some cases, the technology hasn't yet advanced past the experimental stage). Still, the day will come when drawing blood to test your blood sugar levels will be a thing of the past.