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Diabetes monitoring with a patch

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
smiling adult woman

13th September 2017 – There's a new way for people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar levels that doesn't rely on finger prick blood tests. What it does use is a sensor on the arm and the kind of technology used in contactless bank cards.

The new-style monitor licensed for use in the European Union is the FreeStyle Libre by Abbott.

It has just been approved for NHS funding by the NHS Business Services Authority.

Is the new sensor system the same as a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM)?

It's not. The company which makes the sensor says: "The FreeStyle Libre System is not a CGM device." Abbot says it has developed 'a new category' of glucose monitoring.

The sensor is designed to be worn for 14 days and is intended to replace blood glucose meters whilst still giving people with diabetes continuous glucose monitoring-like information.

How does it work?

First you have to fix the sensor to the back of your upper arm in a procedure which is said to be no more painful than a typical finger prick test. The sensor is pressed onto a disposable applicator and then the applicator is pushed down firmly to apply the tiny sterile sensor to your upper arm. The sensor goes just under your skin and is connected to a white, water-resistant plastic patch similar in size to a £2 coin.

The sensor monitors glucose in your interstitial fluid - the fluid between your cells - rather than blood glucose levels. The sensor is also fitted with a transmitter that wirelessly transmits results to a special scanner, or an app on your smart phone, to see what your glucose levels are. You hold the scanner, or your phone, close to the sensor for about 3 seconds. You can scan your arm through your clothes.

With a finger prick blood test you get a snapshot of where your blood glucose levels are. With the new sensor every scan shows your current glucose reading, a trend arrow indicating the direction your glucose is heading and the last 8 hours of your glucose history. This lets you know how food, activity and insulin affect your glucose levels - day and night.


The benefits of the FreeStyle Libre monitoring system are:

  • It's discrete and convenient
  • It takes readings every minute - but you won't be aware of this
  • It gives 8 hours of easy to view glucose history which means patients get more information about the effects of different foods and activity on their glucose levels
  • It's factory-calibrated so it doesn't require finger prick blood glucose measurements for calibration
  • The sensor remains inserted for 14 days
  • It stores your readings for up to 90 days
  • It provides an easy way to share information with your doctor or diabetes nurse
  • It's approved for children aged 4 to 17 and means parents or carers can manage night-time monitoring with a scan, rather than having to wake children to take a finger prick blood test
  • It can be used whether you use an insulin pump, multiple daily insulin injections, other diabetes medications or diet and exercise
  • It's reported to be about as accurate as a CGM.

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