Wearing a continuous glucose monitor – my experience

I have recently volunteered to wear a continuous glucose monitoring device (Dexcom G6) for about a week, to give me the perspective and experience of someone living with diabetes.  

I do not have diabetes. 

What is Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM)? 

It is a small device with a small sensor that measures glucose levels every 5 minutes. It notifies you when your glucose levels go too high or too low.  

It is suitable for everyone who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

What do you get?  

A CGM system consists of three parts: an applicator with a glucose sensor, a transmitter and a small receiver that displays your glucose information. 

Simple Auto-Applicator

The sensor can be applied to the back of your upper arm or your belly, and it can be worn for up to 10 days. You can shower with it and do your day-to-day activities.  

The insertion needle – you don’t see it until you remove the sensor, it is thin and feels like thick hair

For me, the application process was very quick and pain-free. I had the sensor applied to the back of my right arm. The device didn’t really bother me during the day and at night I slept fine. I could easily shower with it.  

CGM on my right arm

I wore it for about 7 days. I wanted to keep it for longer (10 days) but I accidentally pull it out one evening while getting dressed for tennis (I was putting a tight fitness top on). 

One of the downsides of wearing CGM was that I had to keep the receiver near me all the time. Otherwise, the transmitter cannot send data to the receiver if they are quite apart. You need to think of it similarly as your phone, and you also need to keep it charged regularly. The receiver is a small device and rather light in weight, however, is another object that you need to carry with you if you are already a phone owner. There is also an option to check your blood sugar levels on your mobile phone via the Dexcom G6 app.

The receiver

How does it work? 

The glucose sensor measures blood glucose levels under the skin, then the transmitter sends data wirelessly to a receiver or another compatible smart device.  

There is no need to calibrate this device.  

You can set your own threshold and receive alerts so you can treat yourself before you get into hypo (very low blood glucose level).  

A blood glucose (BG) meter measures glucose in the blood whereas CGM measures glucose in the fluid between your cells. To understand how this affects your reading, you can check this video.

Be aware! There is a warning saying that once for a while how you feel may not match with your CGM reading, therefore it is important that you trust your body and do not ignore your symptoms.  

While wearing CGM, I also kept a food diary so I could later compare the results, and check what effect the food I was eating had on my blood glucose levels. You can print out those results, as they are presented in graph form. You can also easily monitor this information on a regular basis as the receiver displays your glucose information. However, during this experiment, I did not really pay much attention to that. 

Nevertheless, I had my alerts set up to tell me about my very low and very high blood glucose levels. I think I only received 2 alerts when my blood glucose was very low, but I did not feel any symptoms associated with hypo at that point. I was fine. As I mentioned earlier, there is a warning saying that users should trust their body and if needed to check their blood glucose with finger prick testing.  

What are the proven outcomes? 

  • Reduction of HbA1c by 1.0% for Patients with T1D; HbA1c average blood glucose (sugar) levels for the last two to three months
  • decreased time spent in hypoglycaemia 
  • improved overall wellbeing and quality of life  
  • no need to do finger-prick checks as with a regular blood glucose meter

Source: Dexcom website

What are the costs?

The costs vary depending on which price plan you choose. Sensors are in the region of £40-£60 each. Please follow the link to the CGM website for up-to-date costs and any special offers.

Can I get a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) on the NHS? 

CGM is currently offered for free to all pregnant women living in England with type 1 diabetes.  

Also, a recent NICE guidelines published on 31 March 2022 say that everyone with type 1 diabetets will be offered flash (intermittently scanned glucose monitoring) or CGM technology free on the NHS in England and Wales.

There are some clinics that lend CGM for free temporarily to those who struggle with monitoring their blood glucose levels. You can speak to your diabetes team to check if you can borrow a CGM.

My thoughts… 

Overall, it was an interesting experience for me, and I am super grateful for this opportunity. I am amazed how technology has evolved over the last few decades and it is super exciting that we have such devices these days. 

I just hope this product will be more accessible in the future to other patients, here in the UK and elsewhere in the world, who live with different types of diabetes and need to monitor their blood glucose levels on a regular basis.  

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