FreeStyle Libre is a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device by Abbott that allows you to monitor your blood glucose levels with a smartphone application.
It’s meant to help diabetic individuals monitor blood sugar levels without the pain and tediousness of finger pricking.
One of the major benefits of the FreeStyle Libre blood glucose meter is that its sensor can be worn at all times on the upper arm, removing the need for painful finger sticking to check for low blood sugar.
With its easy-to-use app interface that works on both iPhone or Android, this might be a welcome alternative for many people who are ready for a change in diabetic care.
How Does it Work?
Continuous glucose monitoring constantly tracks your blood sugar, day and night, so you always have a current glucose reading. You’re able to see your blood glucose levels at a glance, at any time.
This makes it easier, and safer, for those with insulin resistance to adjust medications and insulin use accordingly without impeding on their daily life to the same extent as finger pricking.
CGMs work with a tiny sensor under the skin and can be placed on the stomach or the arm. The sensor then measures something called “interstitial glucose levels,” which is just the blood sugar found in the fluid between cells.
The device tests these levels every couple of minutes, sending wireless signals to an attached monitor.
While some monitors may be a part of an attached insulin pump, FreeStyle Libre’s device sends data to a smartphone app on compatible phones like your iPhone or Android.
There, you can check your glucose levels, trends in your blood glucose, as well as your glucose history.
Not to mention, the FreeStyle LibreLink app has real-time alarms that will alert you if your blood glucose falls, or rises, above certain levels. Plus, you can share your glucose readings with friends, parents, or doctors so they can keep up to date with your health history.
But how well does it work? And is the application-based reading as reliable as traditional CGMs?
In this review, we’ll take a look at the pros, cons, and everything in between so you can make an informed decision about whether or not FreeStyle Libre is right for you.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, here are some of our favorite features of FreeStyle Libre that you should know beforehand:
- The FreeStyle Libre sensor is much smaller and more discreet than competitors.
- You don’t need a separate device to read your glucose. You just need your phone for flash glucose monitoring.
- You don’t need to prick your fingers at any point during the instructions or set-up – not even to calibrate it.
- It’s pretty affordable, mostly because you don’t need to purchase an external transmitter for the sensor.
- Since it’s sold directly to pharmacies and only really has one part that might need to be replaced, it’s easier for you to get your hands on.
- While they can be frustrating, the alarms and notifications are completely optional and customizable.
- The sensor lasts longer than most alternatives.
Of course, where there are pros, there are also some cons:
- You can only check your glucose retroactively on the app. There’s no way to get real-time readings.
- Many people report malfunctions and unreliable readings.
- The application only saves glucose data for eight hours.
- Many people report that the sensor falls off frequently.
- It’s not waterproof, only water-resistant.
That’s the gist! So let’s dive in and look at some of these features in more detail.
When it comes to blood glucose monitors, it can literally be a matter of life and death. Those who rely on these types of monitors need them to be reliable and trustworthy so that they can adjust their insulin accordingly. So, how does Freestyle Libre stack up?
The accuracy of the system seems to be pretty hit or miss. While many individuals report that the sensor functions almost seamlessly, we’ve also noticed instances where the FreeStyle sensor does not match up with traditional skin prick tests.
We found that sensor readings seem to be particularly off during the last 24 hours of the sensor life, as well as during the initial 24 hours of insertion.
We’d say that you shouldn’t rely on accurate readings during the first day that you wear the device to give it some time to calibrate properly.
Additionally, the FreeStyle Libre system does not take instantaneous readings. Instead, it takes readings every minute. This can be frustrating, especially for those who are also trying to accurately track their glucose during exercise or other periods of intense activity.
Moreover, the app only saves glucose data for eight hours, which can make it tough to track trends over a longer period of time.
On the bright side, the sensor can last up to 14 days without needing to be replaced, which is much longer than most other CGM systems that typically need replacement after just 10.
We did notice, however, that the sensor is not too secure and it has the tendency to fall off if it bumps into walls or jiggles too much while running or exercising.
With that said, we found that FreeStyle Libre 14-day system has similar accuracy to the Dexcom G6 system, which is their competitor.
While the system’s reliability comes into question, there’s really no doubting the convenience and comfort of Abbott’s CGM device.
Inserting the device took us less than 30 seconds, and attaching the sensor was virtually painless.
That’s mostly because the sensor is only 0.2 inches thick, which is three times smaller than Dexcom’s CGM. You’ll barely notice it on your arm or your belly.
Additionally, scanning the sensor takes just a second, and it works through clothing.
This means you can scan anytime, anywhere. That’s a clear improvement from the frustrating and time-consuming process of finger pricking.
While we found it most convenient to just scan the sensor with our smartphone directly, you can still scan the sensor with the Libreview device.
This gives you pretty much the same information as the app. If you don’t have a smartphone, or you just want a backup, this means you can still access your readings without needing a finger prick.
Another benefit of this device is that it’s only as intrusive as you’d want it to be.
It doesn’t beep or send you any alerts on your phone, unless you want it to.
While we noticed that fluctuations in natural glucose levels can make these notifications a little bit annoying, it’s not something we can dock them for since you can turn them off or manage them to your liking.
Diabetes management can be a costly process, especially without insurance.
However, the FreeStyle Libre costs between $0 and $60 on most private insurance plans. Additionally, you can get a free trial to test out the product for 14 days before you commit.
If you don’t have insurance and you have to pay out of pocket, it’ll probably run you around $130 per sensor.
While this is pretty steep, it’s much less expensive than the cost of Dexcom’s G6 system, which can run upwards of $350 per sensor.
Also, you may be eligible for FreeStyle Libre if you have Medicare, as the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded qualifications to include more people on medicare. The system is also covered under Veterans Affairs, so qualifying service members can also get a system free of charge.
Abbott’s customer service line is available seven days a week from 8 am to 8 pm ET, which is a generous window of time for any questions or concerns you might have. While it does limit timing options for individuals on the West coast, we found that their care team is responsive, friendly, and overall helpful in addressing concerns.
Plus, you can contact them through phone or by Facebook messenger, which is great if you just don’t feel like talking to someone directly on the phone.
When we reached out on messenger, we received a response within just minutes and got an answer to our question in under five minutes total.
On top of that, the website is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
There’s a section about how to start up your device, as well as how to use it once you’ve got it attached. You can even compare their devices to decide which might be right for you all within the pages of their site.
Who can use FreeStyle Libre?
The original FreeStyle Libre 14 day system is similar to the new and updated FreeStyle Libre 2. However, one of the major differences is that children ages four and up are able to use the FreeStyle Libre 2.
This is a major benefit when compared to other CGM devices, so we need to give FreeStyle some credit where it’s deserved.
Because of the app’s glucose sharing feature, you’ll be able to monitor your child’s glucose while they’re at school, hanging out with friends, or just playing in their room.
This not only lets you make sure they’re taking medication as needed, but it can also help them learn and understand healthy habits in regards to keeping their insulin levels in check.
You will need a doctor’s prescription in order to get your hands on the system. However, once you get that cleared, anyone aged four and up is able to use the system to monitor their blood glucose.
FreeStyle Libre: In Review
The FreeStyle Libre CGM is a major step in the right direction that makes it much easier, and painless, to manage your blood glucose on the fly.
It’s discreet and easy to use, letting you track and check your blood glucose by just scanning the sensor with your iPhone or Android.
While it seems to suffer from inaccurate readings, especially during the initial installation and its final day of life, it appears to be mostly accurate throughout most of the day.
And while the ability to track your readings over an eight-hour period is nice, we wish it held the data for a longer period of time to give a better sense of glucose trends.
Overall, it’s a cost-effective solution that works well and has enough benefits to outweigh some of the drawbacks. And with a responsive customer service team, you can address your issues right when they arise without needing to stress.
References and Sources:
Continuous Glucose Monitoring | NIDDK
Calculating Insulin Dose | University of California, San Francisco
The High Cost of Insulin in the United States: An Urgent Call to Action | The Mayo Clinic
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Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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