Continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMs) have revolutionized the way that diabetes can be managed.
The History of Testing Sugar
Diabetes has been around for thousands of years. Its name, diabetes mellitus, comes from the Greek term diabetes, meaning to siphon or pass through, and the Latin term mellitus, means sweet. This name was chosen to describe people as early as 1500 B.C. with a condition that made their urine sweet.
For centuries, those with diabetes mellitus were unable to quantify the glucose in their urine or blood. Although these ancient civilizations were able to identify that glucose was passing through these individuals (through literal taste tests), they didn't have a way to determine how much, nor did they have any tools to help reduce it.
In the early 1900s, the first urine glucose test was developed. It was a cumbersome, multi-step process using chemical reactions. Soon after, Dr. Banting discovered insulin, and it was used to help treat those diagnosed with diabetes.
In 1965, a blood glucose test strip was first developed. It was originally used solely in physicians' offices, not by individuals. It required a large drop of blood to work properly. In the 1970s and 1980s, advances were made with blood glucometers, and in the 1980s, people with type 1 diabetes began self-monitoring their blood glucose.
In the years since, glucometers have improved to become more accurate, smaller, and require less blood to perform the test.
CGMs Elevate Quality of Life
While glucometers were invaluable for determining your glucose levels at a single moment in time, scientists were busy creating something that would measure these levels continuously. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first CGM. Since then, science has made giant leaps in blood sugar monitoring, with Medtronic, Freestyle, and Dexcom all bringing CGMs to the table.
CGMs allow a much tighter and better control of any type of diabetes. Here are some of the ways CGMs improve your experience with diabetes.
CGMs allow you to catch lows.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is an immediate danger. Low blood sugar is caused by a number of factors, such as too much insulin, not eating all the carbs you were dosed for, honeymooning, exercise, illness, or even changes in the temperature. Hypoglycemia can cause confusion, shakiness, sweating, fatigue, and even a seizure if not caught and treated.
A CGM allows you to catch and treat low blood sugar before it enters a dangerous level. Alarms can be set on your CGM to alert you of your low or falling blood sugar.
CGMs allow you to catch highs.
Hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, if not treated, can create complications later on. All the scary things you hear about with diabetes, such as blindness or neuropathy, are typically associated with extended periods of untreated high glucose levels.
With a CGM, you can be more conscious of your current blood sugar, which can help you increase the amount of time spent in your target range. Spending more time in range lowers your hbA1C, which decreases your chance of complications down the road.
CGMs allow you to see how different foods affect you.
You are taught at diagnosis to give insulin for carbs, but as you put it into practice, you soon realize that not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs hit harder, some hit longer, and some don't affect you. You may also start to realize that you experience a fat and protein rise after a meal heavy in those.
With the data provided by a CGM, you can start to understand how different foods affect your sugars personally. Not only do different carbohydrates absorb differently, but they also affect each person individually. Learning to recognize what different foods will do can help you prepare for the next time you eat them.
CGMs allow you to watch trends.
When you check your blood glucose with a glucometer, you only see a snapshot of that moment. Your numbers might be in range, but it might be dropping and you aren't aware. A CGM gives you a bigger picture of what is actually happening. The more you watch the graphs of your sugar, the more you will be able to recognize how the graph looks when it starts to level off, how steep of a drop is too fast, or where some of your insulin needs may need to be adjusted.
CGMs are also very helpful in dialing in your basal requirements.
CGMs allow you to sleep more soundly.
Blood sugar fluctuations don't take a break at night. You might have been advised at diagnosis to check your blood sugar at 2:00 am to prevent lows in the night. A CGM makes checking your sugar easier than fumbling for test strips in the dark. If you wake to alarms, you can even set your high and low glucose alarms to wake you if you are out of range.
CGMs allow you to pre-bolus more effectively.
If your doctor has suggested pre-bolusing (taking insulin at a set time before eating) to help the peak performance of the insulin match the peak absorption of the carbs you are eating, a CGM will help you recognize the best time to start eating. If you were already high and have a corrective dose and dose for carbs together, you will want to wait longer than if you were lower and about to eat.
Studies show that individuals with a CGM can better manage their diabetes diagnosis. This will lead to a healthier life with fewer complications. Achieving the same results without a tool to watch your sugars consistently would be nearly impossible.
Once you have your CGM, don't forget to grab some Medtronic adhesive tape, Dexcom overpatches, or Freestyle Libre sensor adhesive to keep your CGM secured on your skin, whether you’re sleeping, sweating at the gym, or showering. With all this wonderful technology and data available to you, the last thing you want is for your CGM to fall off prematurely and leave you pricking your fingers again while you wait for a replacement.