My Experience Using a Continuous Glucose Monitor

Marana, a woman with blond hair wearing a blue dress, is posing on a sidewalk

Editor’s note: Be sure to watch our webinar, Monitoring Your Blood Sugar Levels With Low or No Vision, with Marana and Diabetes Nurse Educator, Kim Ladd.  Kim has also written a blog post, How You Can Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels with Low or No Vision – VisionAware.

By Marana Vradenburg, Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist

My diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes came at the age of 9. Prior to being admitted to the hospital for two weeks, taught vaguely about blood glucose and the role of insulin, how to administer injections myself and the dreaded finger prick to test my blood sugar multiple times a day, I had never heard of diabetes. The reality of it being a chronic illness wasn’t something I fully understood at such a young age. My mom was keeping me out of school for a month and that didn’t sound too shabby. It didn’t take long for me to learn that finger sticks were my arch enemy, because they hurt. I hated the fact that it seemed as if I was trying to do all the things the doctors told me to do and was not getting the result I should have been. Every time I was confronted with a reading that was out of range, I felt like I was failing and having that constant reminder all day long took its toll. The result was I began testing only when I felt poorly, which didn’t work out so well. Ultimately, I lost all of my eyesight due to complications from uncontrolled diabetes.  

Introduction to the Dexcom G5 CGM 

Dexcom G5 CGM
Dexcom GS CGM

Let’s fast forward to 3 years ago when I was introduced to the Dexcom G5 CGM, or continuous glucose monitor. This is a device that is worn 24 hours a day and provides an updated glucose reading every 5 minutes. It was small, discreet, and required I test my blood sugar just twice a day to calibrate for accuracy, which was a huge relief. The updated G6 system, which I upgraded to a little over a year ago, now requires no finger sticks for calibration. Blood sticks for calibration are only necessary if a reading is assumed to be inaccurate. 

After so long on the Dexcom system, I can’t imagine life without it. The information it provides is far superior to what is provided with a single finger stick. Traditional glucose meters still have their place, but the Dexcom system provides a current glucose reading as well as information as to which direction my glucose level is heading. For example, if my glucose is 120 mg/dl, directional arrows will let me know if that is constant, rising or falling, and how quickly. This information allows me to better understand  how activity, exercise, and food affect my glucose levels.  This feature is helpful for anyone. As an athlete, I especially appreciate this function. 

Ability to Share Glucose Readings 

The Dexcom allows a user to share readings with 5 other people.  This helps reduce the fear of having a severe drop in glucose while alone. There’s an expression,  “dead in bed,” and it refers to the fact that If blood glucose drops too low while someone is sleeping, they may not wake up to treat it leading to catastrophic results and even death. It’s nice to know that if I’m traveling to another state and my loved ones are not be there to help, they would be alerted and could get help to me. The Dexcom also has a 20-minute warning for an urgent low, which means if it detects that the glucose will be 55 or below within 20 minutes, it will alarm. Both the user and those with whom the readings are being shared can set the preferred readings at which they want to be alerted. I like mine set with a narrower window so that I’m alerted to a problem before my friends/family. 

Along with sharing information with friends/family, the Dexcom also keeps a record called the “Clarity Report,” which shows trends in spikes or drops, allowing you and your doctor to determine adjustments in treatment if necessary.  

Description of the System 

The Dexcom system comes with a small receiver that shows all its information; however, it is completely inaccessible for those who are visually impaired. The good news is that there is a smartphone app for both the iPhone and Android that is accessible using VoiceOver and Talkback screen reading technology.  I’ve never tested it on an Android, but  Kim Ladd, a diabetes nurse educator, shared that it will work with the Android Talkback system although it seems to function better on the iPhone using VoiceOver. As with most apps, bugs pop up with updates from time to time, but I’ve always been able to find some sort of work around. The part of the Dexcom that you wear is a little smaller than a peanut in its shell and comes with 2 parts, the transmitter, and the sensor. The transmitter is the battery and is replaced every 3 months; the sensors need to be changed every 10 days. Insertion is painless and, while it’s advised to wear it on the abdomen, you can talk to your doctor about wearing it elsewhere. I found that it needs to be worn in an area with at least an inch of pinchable fat; otherwise readings can be off.  

I believe that if Dexcom had been around when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I might not be blind today. It has helped me to take much better control of my diabetes by fine tuning my diet, exercise, medication, and lowering my HB A1C. I’m also much more comfortable with being alone, because I know if I have a problem someone will be alerted. I certainly would advise anyone who lives with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes to talk to their physician about using the Dexcom. If your insurance won’t cover the Dexcom, talk to your provider about other continuous glucose monitoring systems to see if there is another one that would work for you.  It has improved my quality of life tremendously and I’m sure it would yours as well. 

Additional Information 

Webinar Diabetes Basics 

OIB-TAC free course Diabetes & Visual Impairment | OIB-TAC 

How the Dexcom CGM Works   

Inserting Sensor and Attaching the Dexcom Transmitter [This step does require some visual assistance because the new sensor needs to be synced to the transmitter by entering an ID #]  

Dexcom customer service phone #: 888-738-3646