If you have diabetes, checking your blood sugar can be a pain—literally. But now the FDA has approved a new wireless blood glucose monitoring system that can dramatically reduce the number of finger-stick tests that you need to perform each day.

Background: Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. Many need to test their blood sugar several times a day—as many as seven times, in fact. The primary method is a small portable blood glucose monitor that pierces your skin and draws a tiny bead of blood from your finger tip. You then put the blood on a strip, run it through the device…and get an immediate blood sugar reading. The shorthand for it is finger-stick testing. Who needs daily blood sugar monitoring? Anyone with type 1 diabetes, since it’s necessary for insulin management…the approximately 30% of type 2 diabetics who also need insulin…anyone on an oral type 2 medication that can cause low blood sugar problems (hypoglycemia)…and even some people with well-controlled diabetes who want to monitor how well diet, exercise and/or medications are working.

What the FDA approved: The Dexcom G5 Mobile Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) System. It allows you to monitor your glucose activity in real time without the need to draw blood nearly as often.

How it works: You insert a tiny flexible wire sensor, using a plunger-type device, under your skin, usually in your abdomen. A small transmitter is attached on top of the skin in the same place. You replace the sensor weekly, and the transmitter every three months. It checks your glucose (blood sugar) level every five minutes and wirelessly transmits your blood glucose number to a handheld meter—and if you want to your smartphone or tablet. The device sends audio alerts when your glucose goes out of a healthy range—either too high or too low.

Bonus: A feature in the device’s mobile app allows you to share your data with up to five compatible smart devices. So you can share your data with your primary health-care provider…as well as family members or caregivers. They can help you control your diabetes.

Drawback: The Dexcom G5 doesn’t let you do away with finger-stick testing entirely. You still need to do finger-stick testing twice a day. Since it’s a new device, there have been some glitches, too—the device sometimes doesn’t send out an audible alarm sound when it should, although the display lights up. The company is working to fix the problem.

Bottom line: The Dexcom G5 not only allows people with diabetes to cut down, often dramatically, how many times a day they need to jab a fingertip to draw blood. It also makes it easier to monitor your blood sugar, so the result might be better blood sugar control…and better health. It is eligible for coverage by Medicare or other insurance. The out-of-pocket cost will depend on your insurance coverage. To find out more, visit the Dexcom G5 website.

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