Be Gone Vile Finger Pricks

I wanted to give some background with my experiences with monitoring blood sugar as a recently diagnosed Type 1 diabetic prior to trialling the FreeStyle Libre arm sensor from Abbotts.

I use a device to prick my finger tip and make it bleed. I then use this blood on a testing strip in a blood glucose meter to give me a ‘snapshot’ of my mmol/L reading at that moment. Under the NHS we as Type 1 sufferers are allowed up to 10 testing strips a day. Even with this I found my GP was unhappy with me using 8 a day due to costs. A tub of 50 testing strips costs the NHS £10.99 (they showed me this when trying to get me to use less).

These ‘snapshots’ would happen at the following times:

  • After you get up
  • Before each meal
  • When you go to sleep
  • If you suspect you are having a hypo (low blood sugar — can be dangerous)

Anything your blood does between these moments were a guess at best. No real way to know.

I accepted this. One of the negatives about being a diabetic. Living with the unknown. I didn’t realise there was another way…

…Bring in the Free Style Libre sensor…

This is a sensor (the size of a £2 coin) that is on/in your arm and gives you a full reading of your blood sugars. It takes a reading every 60 seconds, stores every 15minute reading and holds 8hrs of data. This can then be transferred to your phone via NFC (if you are lucky and smart enough to have an Android — totally biased as you can see).

This means that you have full all day and all night readings in between the snapshots that finger pricking would give you.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be invited to ‘trial’ a sensor up at St James Hospital Leeds with a demo from a sales rep from Abbotts (who make the FreeStyle Libre).

The application wasn’t painful at all. It becomes unnoticeable within an hour or two and sleeping on it is fine. These were my biggest concerns when I was heading to this trial.

The negative on the application for me though was the fact I hit a blood vessel and it bled for a fair while. This did not impact the sensors ability in reading my blood sugar. But it has caused adhesive issues. I contacted customer support, explained and sent pictures. They are sending a replacement. Which was a nice surprise.

Within 48hrs I was sold on that I would be using these sensors instead of the finger pricking snapshots.

Here is what sold it to me:

22:00 — 5.8 mmol/L — I would have taken a finger prick snapshot, seen my blood was a little low for bed and had a small snack.

22:30 — 8.5 mmol/L — I would have checked my reading again on the snapshot finger prick just to check I was safe to go to sleep.

00:30 — 6.9 mmol/L — I would have ‘maybe’ checked again while I was up making my sons night feed.

05:30 — 4.8 mmol/L — I would have assumed that I had a steady decline in the night still keeping me within the realms of normal (between 4 and 9). But why did I wake up feeling so clammy, exhausted and rough? Must have just had bad dreams.

The reality (only demonstrated by the sensor) is that I actually had a 2.5 hr long hypoglycaemic episode in the early hours. This explains possibly many times I have w0ken up feeling awful before wearing this sensor.

Having this full data allows me as a diabetic make better informed adjustments to my life to conquer these issues.

The only downside to these sensors is the price tag and the fact you have to swap them over every 14 days due to the enzyme on the filament in your arm causes the sensor to be in-accurate after that time.

On the website they come up as roughly £58 per sensor. But as a diabetic I can tick the VAT-exempt box and get 20% off dropping down to a more affordable £47ish. But for nearly £100/month this is still quite a price tag. If I live to 70 this would mean spending £45,000-£50,000 (roughly) on sensors.

I have since gone and ordered 3 more sensors from the website as I do see the value given with data versus price, especially as a recently diagnosed diabetic (plus I love gadgets and calling myself a bionic human is awesome).

Some more useful graphs shown by this sensor:

Heat map of readings based on at least 5 days of data

  • I have the biggest range currently at lunch.
  • Just before bed my readings will spike due to evening dinner being my biggest meal of the day.
  • My most stable range is early morning as it is not impacted by food/drink intake.

The % of time spent in each target region

Green is good. Yellow isn’t ideal. Red is bad.

  • I spend a large chunk of my time in the stable green, even though I seem to do a lot of ‘corrections’ with snacks to stop it dipping into yellow/red.
  • I still dip into a hypo red more often than I would like.

Average blood sugar reading at certain times

This allows you to see how your weekly lifestyle and meal habits change your readings during certain hours.

  • My average in the evening is the highest compared to the rest of the day. This is due to my largest carb heavy meal being in the evening.
  • Early hours of the morning is when I am most at risk of a hypo it would seem.

Average times for hypo episodes

  • Post lunch seems to be worse based on just 5 days of data so far.
  • This has been due to miscalculating insulin when eating out for lunch at work. Something the graph doesn’t show but gives me the insights to think more about reasons and how to battle these.

If you have any questions, thoughts, feedback or even want to share your experiences please do get in contact. I have found a lot of support in strangers with Type 1 Diabetes and if I can lend an ear to anyone else I will help where I can.

(or if something I have written is ill-informed from a diabetic newbie — do please contact and correct me)

I intend to keep writing about my experiences as they happen.