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What’s a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor) and Picking One

[This story was updated in May 2020 to reflect the fact that Eversense CGM is no longer available for purchase.]

 

Let’s face it, people love acronyms. And chances are that if you’re even remotely connected to the diabetes community, “CGM” is a term you hear and see tossed around often.

For those who don’t know, CGM is short for continuous glucose monitor. But even for those familiar with the term, it can be hard to figure out what a CGM does exactly, how to choose the right one, how to determine costs and insurance coverage, and where to buy one.

Enter this DiabetesMine primer on continuous glucose monitoring. We’ll start with the basics and seek to answer all the nuts-and-bolts questions we can.

Whether you’re a newly diagnosed adult with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, a parent or guardian of a child with type 1, or a diabetes caregiver, we hope this overview will provide the answers you seek.

 

What is continuous glucose monitoring (CGM)?

A continuous glucose monitoring system, or CGM for short, is a compact medical system that continuously monitors your blood sugar levels in more or less real time (there’s normally a five-minute interval between readings).

To use a CGM, you insert a small sensor onto your abdomen that includes a tiny cannula that penetrates the skin. An adhesive patch holds the sensor in place, allowing it to take glucose readings in interstitial fluid (the fluid that surrounds cells in the body) throughout the day and night. Generally, the sensors have to be replaced every 10 to 14 days.

A small, reusable transmitter connected to the sensor allows the system to send real-time readings wirelessly to a monitor device that displays your blood glucose data. Some systems come with a dedicated monitor, and some now display the information via a smartphone app, so you don’t even need to carry an extra device around with you.

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Aside from the constant stream of data, most CGMs can send alerts telling you when your blood sugar levels are rising too high or dropping too low. You can also set the alert parameters and customize how you’re notified.

It’s not an understatement to say that CGMs have revolutionized diabetes care. Unlike a traditional fingerstick blood glucose meter (BGM), which provides just a single glucose reading, CGM systems provide continuous, dynamic glucose information every five minutes. That equates to roughly 288 readings in a day.

 

How CGMs change life with diabetes

The idea here is empowerment, as these devices provide some serious medical and lifestyle benefits.

First off, you can literally see in real-time the effects of food and exercise on your blood glucose levels, and can catch cases of hyperglycemia (too-high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (too-low blood sugar) as they happen, avoiding the potentially dangerous consequences. This is a huge advantage over historic “static” blood glucose monitoring, which only provided a single glucose reading at a time.

There’s also the convenience factor….

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