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What if you could test your blood glucose by waving a magic wand instead of sticking yourself with a lancet?

Wish granted!

But there’s no magic involved—just cutting-edge technology in a first-of-its-kind device that recently won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The old way: Ouch!

People who test blood sugar with a conventional glucose meter have to poke themselves every time. And until now, people who use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) still had to prick their fingers at least twice a day to calibrate the device. Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System is the first CGM that doesn’t require finger sticks for calibration.

How it works

Freestyle Libre users place a small adhesive sensor, about the size of a quarter, on their upper arm. A tiny wire in the sensor is placed under the skin surface to continuously measure glucose levels. You wave a small reader device over the sensor—kind of like a magic wand—and presto! It shows you what your glucose levels are up to. Not only do you get a current reading, you can see how your levels have risen and fallen during the past eight hours.

Better monitoring

Abbott claims the Freestyle Libre makes testing so convenient that users test more often.

"What we see with the FreeStyle Libre system is patients gaining a better understanding of the impact of food, exercise, and specific medications on their glucose levels due to availability of the data, which is important in the day-to-day management of diabetes and for behavioral changes towards improved diabetes control," said Maria Tulpan, MD, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. 

Living with the Freestyle Libre

Like other CGMs, the Freestyle Libre’s sensor has to be replaced regularly. It lasts about 10 days; that’s longer than other sensors. Glucose levels can be read through clothing, so there’s no need to uncover your arm. And the sensor is water resistant, so you can wear it in the shower.

But don’t throw away your old glucose meter yet. Abbott says Freestyle Libre users may still have to stick their finger occasionally to confirm unusual glucose readings, or when their symptoms don’t match the readings.

Unlike other CGMs, the Freestyle Libre doesn’t work in tandem with an insulin pump. And it won’t sound an alarm all by itself if your glucose is out of whack—you have to wave the reader over the sensor whenever you want to see your current number.

Availability

The Freestyle Libre is already used in about 40 other countries. It is expected to be widely available in the United States by the end of the year. The FDA has approved it for adults age 18 and older, but has not yet approved it for children.

CGMs are often covered by health insurance, but it remains to be seen how many American insurers will cover the Freestyle Libre.

Would you switch to the Freestyle Libre? Why or why not? Add your comment below.

(Image courtesy of Abbott.)