As someone who has diabetes, you know that if your pancreas were working as it should, it would always know when your blood sugar was going up or down. And then it would provide just the right amount of insulin to keep your blood sugar where it needs to be.
Instead, you have to do that job yourself. You prick your finger and place a bit of blood into your glucose meter. Then you give yourself insulin based on what the meter says your glucose level is (or you tell your insulin pump to do it for you). The more often you test your blood sugar during the day, the better you can see how your meals and activity are affecting your levels, and the better you can control your blood sugar.
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But even if you are pricking your finger 15 times a day, you can't tell what's happening to your blood sugar the rest of the time—especially overnight. A continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, can do that for you. It reports on your blood sugar at least every 5 minutes, day and night. And it sounds an alarm if it sees that your levels are headed out of range.
How does a continuous glucose monitor work?
A CGM has three parts. You wear one part—the sensor—against your skin. It has a tiny needle that stays under your skin. A transmitter is attached to the sensor and constantly reads your blood glucose level. It sends this information to the other part of the monitor, a wireless receiver that you (or a caregiver such as a parent) wear on your belt or in your pocket.
At any time, you can look at the receiver and see what your glucose level is. You can see if your level is going up or down—and how fast. You can download the information to your computer and see the trends and patterns of your glucose levels.
You note on the receiver when you eat, do exercise, and inject insulin. That way you can see how those activities affect your blood sugar throughout the day and night.
All this detailed information gives you and your doctor a better idea of what your treatment needs are.
Continuous monitors are not as accurate as standard meters. At least once or twice a day, depending on the type of monitor you buy, you will have to prick your finger and use your standard meter to confirm what the CGM is telling you.