Living with diabetes may require lifetime treatment and good self-care. Keeping your sugar on target can be hard, and having the right tools can be key. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can be one of these tools and help you manage your diabetes, which benefits you in your journey to good health.
A CGM automatically tracks blood sugar levels through a small sensor that is placed on your skin and connected to a small wire that sits just under the skin. A CGM records the sugar level in the fluid just under your skin and not in your blood, unlike with a finger-stick. There are intermittently scanned CGMs (isCGMs) that you need to wave a reader or a smart-phone over to see a reading, and there are also real-time CGMs (rtCGMs) that give your sugar reading in a waveform which is actually a record of your blood sugar levels every 5 to 15 minutes. This is real-time information because you see not only your numbers but also how they have been doing over time.
If you’re thinking about getting a CGM, there are some things you need to consider.
CGM benefits: Improving at-home diabetes care
The CGM can automatically record blood sugar levels every 5 to 15 minutes. It then sends the number to a reader, pump, or smartphone app. Some models can also send alerts for high or low sugar levels, rapid changes in sugar levels, or when they are outside a target range you have set. Overall, it’s meant to be a tool that helps people with diabetes and gives them better diabetes control.
CGM benefits: Intermittent and real-time monitoring
Two types of CGMs are available on the market today: rtCGMs and isCGMs. An rtCGM can send a steady stream of numbers to the user’s device, whether or not they do anything to get the numbers. On the other hand, an isCGM needs the user to scan their sensor with the receiver or smartphone to view blood sugar readings.
CGM benefits and drawbacks: What to consider before getting one
The pros of CGM use
Improved record of sugar levels
A CGM can always record blood sugar levels, despite what you may be doing at the moment. You can see the instant effects of your diet, exercise, sleep patterns, and other lifestyle choices on your blood sugar levels.
Due to the alert features in some models, the CGM can be really useful for people whose bodies don’t feel the warning signs of high or low sugar levels.
Instant results and information
A CGM not only lets you see what your blood sugar is right now, but also if it is changing or staying steady. It also keeps track of what has been going on over the past days, weeks, or months so you can always check it for patterns.
Improved A1C and time-in-range (TIR)
Several studies show that CGMs can be great tools for more time-in-range (TIR) sugar levels. The data your CGM provides can help you figure out the total hours and minutes spent within healthy target levels. You can then make healthy lifestyle choices to further increase your TIR.
By increasing your TIR, you can really reduce your A1C levels or your average blood sugar level over the past 3 months.
The ideal A1C level for people with diabetes is usually 7% or less. Having 10% more TIR (a 2.4-hour time increase) can actually lower your A1C by 0.5%!
A lot fewer finger-sticks
For some time now, meters used to be the only way to check blood sugar levels. Some people may find constant fingerstick testing to be painful and embarrassing.
While a CGM requires you to put a sensor on, it comes already loaded in an inserter. All you have to do is push a button which will put the wire (with a width of 2 hairs) under the skin where it needs to sit. You change your sensor every 10 to 14 days, based on which CGM you have. Once the sensor shows your readings, you only need to poke your finger for a meter check when you think the CGM number is not matching how you’re feeling.
Peace of mind for family, friends, and caretakers
CGMs can be really helpful for people who need support from family or friends to manage their diabetes. CGMs now have apps that allow for readings to be sent to a second person’s phone. This can alert parents, spouses, or caregivers of oncoming high or low blood sugar episodes—especially at crucial moments, such as in the middle of the night.
The downsides of CGM use
Diabetes is life-long, and CGM devices can be more expensive than meters. Transmitters might need occasional replacement, further adding to the expense of getting the CGM device itself based on which model you have.
Some insurance plans may not cover a CGM device. Some providers may only include certain types of CGMs and it may not necessarily be the right model for you. Often, the upfront cost of a CGM can seem a lot, but CGMs can help with the long-term problems commonly faced by people with diabetes—including maintaining healthy TIR. By having increased TIR, you can lower your risk of developing long-term problems, which can then lower the long-term costs of managing diabetes.
While CGMs may provide a wealth of information regarding blood sugar levels and long-term trends, not everyone knows how to look at and use this information. Some may even find the constant flow of readings and alerts to be too much.
Though most companies provide guides and tools on how to fully use CGMs and the information they provide, it can take time to get used to a CGM.
Increased trend for over-corrections
CGMs measure blood sugar levels 24 hours a day and provide a constant flow of numbers. This may cause a person to react too much and give too much insulin when they see their numbers going up. A person needs to remember how insulin works, how long it takes to start working, and how long it stays working in the body.
CGM manufacturers may include specific places to put the sensor. Some people may find that certain sites may affect some aspects of their lifestyle, from sleeping positions to clothing tastes. On the other hand, some people are concerned with always having something on their body. However, the discomfort of putting in a new sensor is usually offset by needing less finger-sticks.
Need help making a decision?
While there are numerous CGM benefits that can surely improve how you manage your diabetes, there is still a lot to consider. You may have to check with your insurance provider to see how well they cover CGMs. Better Health can handle the paperwork with your doctor and check your insurance to ensure you’re covered and never overpay. Call Better Health at 415-475-8444 today.