A good quality of life while living with diabetes is possible especially when you know your blood sugar numbers.
For people diagnosed with diabetes, consistent blood sugar rates are the goal, not just having a specific hemoglobin A1C that shows an average blood sugar level for the past several months.
“For blood sugar or blood glucose, you don’t want peaks and valleys, ups and downs,” said LeAnn Tilden, R.N., Nutrition & Diabetes Services, Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Glucose monitoring rates ideally should be more constant and give you current information.”
Blood sugar testing is a good diabetes management tool and for years, people with diabetes have used glucose meters requiring needle sticks to capture a blood droplet for testing.
Thanks to technology, monitoring is easier, less painful and provides more data for better management through a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system.
“This is a game changer, for sure,” Tilden said. “With the rise of numbers of people with diabetes, we have to help people figure out how to manage it better since it’s a multifaceted disease. Close monitoring helps people with diabetes live healthier longer with less complications from the chronic disease and CGMs have definitely changed and improved accuracy over time.”
Knowing numbers is key and CGM systems help people with diabetes keep blood sugars even, rather than spiking high or dropping low. In general, testing frequency depends on diabetes type and treatment plan.
Why test blood sugar?
Testing provides details needed to manage diabetes by:
- Judging how well you’re reaching treatment goals.
- Understanding how diet and exercise affect blood sugar.
- Monitoring diabetes medication/insulin effects.
- Identifying high or low levels.
- Seeing how factors, like illness or stress, affect blood sugar.
A CGM system, Tilden explained, measures blood sugar every few minutes via a small electrode or sensor implanted under the skin. The CGM is held in place by adhesive with the transmitter on top of the electrode. A separate receiver collects transmitted data. Diabetes educators teach patients how to place them and replace them periodically. Some devices show blood sugar readings at all times on a receiver and an alarm will go off if blood sugar goes up or down too much. Others require blood sugar be checked by swiping the receiver over the sensor.
Data shows trends
“A glucose meter with needle stick shows a ‘snapshot in time,’” Tilden said, “while a benefit of a CGM system is it shows trends, giving direction on where glucose is going. For example, a blood sugar of 82 going down is different from a blood sugar of 82 going up and if I see the arrow go up it’s not a good time to eat that cookie.”
The system should not cause pain, is easy to wear and most people don’t have issues with them, she said. A down side might be an allergy to the adhesive.
Two main CGM systems are on the market – real time sensing and intermittent scanned sensing. Real time gives blood sugar numbers in real time every five minutes. Intermittent scanning is not automatic so users must scan the sensor to get data. Both require some receiver set-up.
Cost is another factor, depending on what health insurance will pay “along with many factors that play into cost so it’s important to check your health insurance,” Tilden explained.
One more down side is the amount of data that could be generated.
“Wearing a monitor gives you so many more numbers,” Tilden said. “You can see a steady state, a climb or going low. You can react before a high peak or low valley. This can help you change your behavior. But if you don’t set alerts right you can get ‘numbers burnout’ and tune out after a while. You need to learn to set sensors so that doesn’t happen. It’s important not to be overwhelmed by data. You can get carried away a bit and need to temper it with realism.”
To learn more about diabetes, diabetes care and CGM systems, contact your primary care physician. Also, the Diabetes Self-Management Education Program is available at a number of Health System locations as a valuable resource in diabetes management.