According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most commonly occurring chronic diseases, which affects about 90-95% of those diagnosed. According to a 2018 study published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, there were over 415 million adults between 20-79 years living with diabetes globally. The American Diabetes Association estimates that over $327 billion is the annual cost of diabetes care in the United States alone.
A serious complication of diabetes is hypoglycemia, a blood sugar level less than 70 mg/dL. Hypoglycemia comes on suddenly and patients display symptoms such as profuse sweating, tremors, irritability, altered mental status, loss of consciousness, among others. Hypoglycemia has several adverse effects including cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and can be fatal in severe cases. The fear of inadvertent hypoglycemia is among the biggest barriers patients face while working towards glycemic control. Hence, one may conclude that frequent hypoglycemic incidents are disruptive to the normal life, and may result in injury, increased medical costs, loss of wages, and the need for constant monitoring by another person.
Real-time continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) may provide an ideal solution for individuals with a high risk of hypoglycemia. CGM measures glucose levels continuously via a transdermal glucose sensor and sends data to one or more monitoring devices. It is configurable to alert the user and/or designated provider when blood glucose levels are too high or too low. In a 2017 study, David Rodbard, MD, demonstrated that the use of CGMs resulted in significant reduction of hypoglycemia risk and improved patients’ quality of life. Since the invention and subsequent improvement of the quality of monitoring and reporting, CGM systems have become very reliable tools for real-time monitoring of blood glucose and prevention of dangerous hypoglycemia. CGM systems also help reduce health care costs and improve quality of life and productivity of patients.
A Brief Introduction to CGM Systems
The first CGM system hit the market in 1999. Early CGM systems were bogged down with issues related to accuracy, delayed transmission, and patient teaching. Rapid advancements in technology have influenced development of highly accurate, versatile, and user-friendly CGM machines. In 2015, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology included CGM systems into their clinical practice guidelines. Three medical device manufacturers—Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic, and Dexcom Inc.—have emerged as leaders in today’s CGM marketplace at a global level.
CGM’s Role in Preventing Hypoglycemia and Improving Quality of Life
The main idea behind the introduction of CGM systems was to achieve enhanced real-time blood glucose monitoring of diabetic patients and prevention of abnormal glycemic highs and/or lows and its accompanying complications. Multiple studies have successfully demonstrated that diabetic patients are at a risk of undetected hypoglycemia. According to a 2017 study published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, 22% of sudden unexpected deaths in persons under 40 with type 1 diabetes were due to hypoglycemia. The study concluded that using CGM systems helped reduce hypoglycemia and improve glucose control.
Inadequate glycemic control is associated with complications that lead to reduced quality of life, work absenteeism, increased hospitalization, among others. Fear of hypoglycemia and its associated costs may discourage patients from adhering to a treatment plan formulated by their primary care provider. And yet, the Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics study estimated an annual savings of $936-$1,346 per person in hypoglycemia prevention with the use of CGM systems.
A recent randomized controlled trial published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that type 1 diabetics on real-time CGM systems demonstrated a marked improvement in glycemic control and enhanced of quality of life in the form of reduced incidences of hospitalization, work absenteeism, and lesser fear of hypoglycemia.
Furthermore, recent advances in wireless and data-enabled cellphones have enabled medical technology corporations to improve the functionality and accuracy of CGM systems. Modern CGM systems can now send information to the patient and designated caregivers when the blood glucose levels are too high or too low. CGM systems help promote safety and efficacy of glycemic control for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics and reduces the risk of hypoglycemia significantly.
The benefits of CGM systems are yet to be completely utilized by health care providers and patients due to lack of awareness, suspicion about the safety, efficacy, and cost of these systems. Using CGM systems may lead to long-term financial savings and improved quality of life for patients. It is up to primary care providers to educate patients and families to benefit from available technologies and improve their health.