Using Your Continuous Glucose Monitoring Device
Diabetes is known as a silent disease because it often advances gradually and nearly imperceptively. Without treatment, diabetes causes abnormally elevated blood sugar levels, a condition that can eventually have life-threatening consequences. The problem is that the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar are often so subtle that they fly completely under the radar.
For a more in-depth explanation, read, “What’s the Difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?”
The Little Device Providing Round-the-Clock Diabetes Care
To slow the disease’s progression and minimize serious complications, most people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes must use a device to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly. If their blood sugar is too high or too low, medications or lifestyle interventions must be used to keep it within a safe range. People with diabetes can live long and healthy lives by keeping their blood sugar in check. However, it’s not always easy for those with more advanced conditions who may need to test their blood sugar multiple times a day.
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices are designed to make diabetes treatment less burdensome on people who require frequent glucose testing or who are on intensive insulin therapy with tight blood sugar control. Here’s how it works, who it benefits most, and how you can go about getting a CGM device for yourself.
The ABC’s of CGM
Before CGM, self-monitoring of blood glucose involved using a traditional blood glucose meter (BGM), which provides a single reading by pricking a finger for a sample of blood. CGM devices, on the other hand, collect glucose readings every five minutes throughout the day via a sensor worn on the body with a tiny wire that is inserted under the skin. Rather than testing blood, it measures the amount of glucose present in the fluid between cells, known as interstitial fluid.
There are several types of CGM devices approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Generally, they consist of a subcutaneous sensor with an attached transmitter, which sends wireless data to a receiver, such as a monitor or mobile app. By taking approximately 288 readings per day, CGM devices can reveal patterns not easily captured by a single finger prick.
CGM devices also use past data to predict dips or spikes in blood sugar and alert a wearer to take corrective steps. Data is recorded over time, allowing both the wearer and their healthcare providers to monitor blood glucose fluctuations and identify patterns that can help them make better decisions about nutrition, medications, and other lifestyle factors.
Is CGM the Right Choice for You?
While CGM can have significant advantages for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, it isn’t the right choice for everyone. The devices can be costly and aren’t always covered by insurance.
However, CGM can be a gamechanger for those who need to test their blood sugar frequently throughout the day. Not only will they avoid the discomfort of multiple finger pricks, but they may also find that the supplies needed for a traditional BGM are actually more costly than a CGM device over time.
It’s important to note that using a CGM device does not mean that you will no longer need to prick your finger at all. Some models may need to be calibrated using a traditional fingerstick glucose meter to ensure accuracy while getting used to the new device.
If you are curious about using a CGM device, your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons and decide whether it’s the right choice for you. Should you choose to move forward with CGM, your doctor will need to prescribe one of the several FDA-approved devices available.
Making the Switch to CGM
Once you’ve received your CGM device, you’ll need to insert the sensor just beneath your skin using the provided applicator. Typically, sensors are placed in the abdomen or upper arm. You should be sure to cleanse the insertion area with soap and water or alcohol first and carefully follow the instructions provided with your device. The applicators are designed to make the whole process quick and simple.
The sensor will remain in place for several days before it needs to be replaced. The exact duration will depend on your model. Recently, a new type of sensor was developed that must be inserted by your healthcare provider but can remain in place for ninety days. Talk with your doctor about which option is best for you.
Understanding Your CGM Readings
If you are using a receiver, you will need to keep it within five to eight feet of the sensor. As long as it remains within range, the sensor will transmit data to the receiver throughout the day and night, usually every five minutes. Some devices use Bluetooth or cloud-based technology to send glucose readings directly to compatible smartphones or tablets, eliminating the need for a separate receiver.
An alarm will sound if your glucose level goes above or below the target range you’ve set. The monitor or mobile app will also display a line graph showing how your glucose level has changed over the past several hours.
Your CGM device can also predict future glucose levels based on past data. Arrows on the screen will indicate which direction your glucose level is heading. Over time, this real-time flow of information can help you become more aware of how diabetes affects your body. For example, you might discover that your glucose levels fluctuate after eating certain foods or engaging in strenuous exercise. In addition, your healthcare provider can also use the data to adjust your insulin dosing and optimize your overall diabetes regimen.
With all this information may come confusion at first. You should expect a bit of a learning curve as you get used to CGM. Alto’s care team and pharmacists are always an easy text message, in-app chat, or phone call away should you have any questions as you learn the ins and outs of your device. In no time at all, you’ll find yourself switching out sensors and analyzing trends with ease.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.