Better Diabetes Control with Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Retired couple looking at each other while eating breakfast; diabetes management options, continuous glucose monitoring cost

When living with diabetes, blood sugar checks can become a bothersome chore. Glucometers are standard for home glucose testing, but David Trachtenbarg, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains another glucose monitoring option – a continuous glucose monitor – that allows you better control for diabetes management. Read how it works, who is a good candidate, plus the costs of continuous glucose monitoring.

How Does Continuous Glucose Monitoring Work?

A continuous glucose monitor uses an insertable, tiny wire-like sensor underneath the skin to provide minute-by-minute readings of the amount of sugar in your blood, known as glucose. In addition to the sensor that sits on the body, each device has a separate reader. The sensor gives blood sugar readings to the reader for six to 14 days before it needs to be replaced.

“A continuous glucose monitor eliminates most finger pricks,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says. “There may be mild discomfort when first inserting the sensor, but there is no pain afterward.”

One big advantage to continuous glucose monitoring is reducing the number of low blood sugar readings. Many of the continuous glucose monitors will also notify you with an alarm if a low reading is expected. Dr. Trachtenbarg says there are three key features to consider when deciding to use a continuous glucose monitor:

  • Alarms for lows
  • Cost of the monitor
  • Need to calibrate with a fingerstick glucose test

“As far as disadvantages, continuous glucose monitoring takes time to learn how to use and manage. Additionally, continuous glucose monitoring is less accurate than fingerstick glucoses because it measures the glucose underneath the skin versus directly from blood,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

What is the Best Continuous Glucose Monitor?

There are five primary continuous glucose monitors available. Dr. Trachtenbarg details the differences between each. (Every effort was made to be accurate as of October 18, 2018.)

Who Can Use a Continuous Glucose Monitor?

A CGM may be a better option for people who need multiple shots of insulin every day. Without it, they may need to prick their finger to test their blood sugar upwards of 10 times per day. Dr. Trachtenbarg says this is the main reason why people search for different blood sugar monitoring options.  

“The next most common reason is to improve their diabetes control,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

He says anyone taking four or more insulin shots a day or using an insulin pump should talk to their provider about the option of continuous glucose monitoring. You can benefit from continuous glucose monitoring with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

“There are some circumstances when continuous glucose monitoring won’t work. It isn’t currently recommended for use in the hospital, and there are also some drugs that can’t be used with continuous glucose monitoring,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

Continuous Glucose Monitoring Cost

As of 2017, Medicare approved coverage of continuous glucose monitors for patients on multiple shots of insulin a day. Since this time, use of continuous glucose monitors has increased dramatically. However, continuous glucose monitors are typically a more expensive diabetes management option.

“A main barrier for people is cost. The cash price is several thousand dollars a year. But, if you require more than four fingerstick glucoses a day, the cost of a continuous glucose monitor may be less than the cost of name brand blood glucose strips,” Dr. Trachtenbarg says.

Out-of-pocket costs greatly vary depending on your insurance coverage. You can reach out to the insurance company to determine if your insurance covers continuous glucose monitors.

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