I’ve had type 1 diabetes for almost a decade now and there have been many highs and lows, but nothing has ever changed my life with diabetes quite as much as the Freestyle Libre.
I first heard about the product in the summer of 2014. Abbott had created a smart marketing campaign months ahead of the product launch that had the diabetes community more than curious – me included. I was insanely eager to try it. I couldn’t wait to order it and kept checking the website on a daily basis. Then, in October 2014, someone posted the good news in a Facebook group: The shop was online and I immediately took action and ordered.
Shortly after, the Freestyle Libre was completely sold out. Abbott had not been expecting the huge run on the Libre and wasn’t able to serve any new customers for months. Instead, there was a considerable waitlist and a flourishing black market on eBay. By now, Abbott seems to have caught up with the demand and the Freestyle Libre is being used by more than 300.000 people in more than 35 countries.
I am incredibly glad that I made my order that day. I still remember how excited I was when I inserted my first sensor and scanned my glucose levels for the first time. Since that moment, I have been absolutely satisfied with this system. After using it for more than three years, I want to share more about my experiences with you today.
Please note that I am from Germany, so some of my experiences might differ from other countries. If you do not speak English or German, you may want to use Google Translate to understand this article. Thanks for reading!
- 1 What is the Freestyle Libre? A „CGM Light“?
- 2 Buying the Freestyle Libre
- 3 Reimbursement for the Freestyle Libre
- 4 Applying the Freestyle Libre Sensor
- 5 Monitoring glucose levels with the Freestyle Libre
- 6 Accuracy of the Freestyle Libre
- 7 The Freestyle Libre reader device
- 8 Using Apps to scan the Freestyle Libre
- 9 Freestyle Libre Software: So! Much! Data!
- 10 Sensor Life & natural enemies of the Freestyle Libre
- 11 Allergic skin reactions to the Freestyle Libre
- 12 Freestyle Libre Accessoires: Cases & Stickers!
- 13 Criticism & room for improvement
- 14 My conclusions on the Freestyle Libre
What is the Freestyle Libre? A „CGM Light“?
First of all, I want to talk about what the Freestyle Libre is – or rather what it isn’t. Some might thing it is a „light version“ of a CGM, but that’s not the case. While this Flash Glucose Monitoring System does in fact measure glucose levels continuously, it does not transmit this data continuously.
This is an important difference. All this sensor does is continuously measure glucose levels, store this data for eight hours and then transmit it on demand. Since there is no automated connection between the sensor and the reader device, there are no alarms in case of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.
For many CGM users however, these alarms are the most important feature. But personally, I had never tried a CGM and therefore never had access to this kind of continuous and comprehensive glucose data before. Therefore, I still believe that the Freestyle Libre and the data it provides is incredibly valuable. In the end, all users should do their own research and decide which form of therapy is the most feasible and beneficial.
Buying the Freestyle Libre
In Germany, the Freestyle Libre can only be purchased directly through Abbott’s website. In the early days, there used to be long wait lists and many people turned to eBay to buy the device at highly inflated prices. Those times seem to be over for German customers – I myself receive quarterly shipments of seven sensors at a time.
However, it seems that Abbott are handling the distribution of the Freestyle Libre differently in every country, so you may want to get in touch with Abbott directly.
The Freestyle Libre system consists of a reader device and the corresponding sensors. In Germany, we pay 59,90 Euro for the reader device and 59,90 Euro per sensor. Again, prices may vary across the different countries.
Reimbursement for the Freestyle Libre
When I first started using the Freestyle Libre, I had to pay for it out of pocket. This was the case for most German users for quite a while. As a student, 120 Euro per month were a lot of money. But to me, it was always worth the increased quality of life. After some back and forth, my insurance company is now covering the running costs for the system – I only have to pay 30 Euro every three months.
You should get in touch with Abbott to get the latest information about if and how you can get reimbursed in your country.
Applying the Freestyle Libre Sensor
Getting started with the Freestyle Libre is very straightforward. First, the sensor needs to be applied. This is a very easy process: The sensor applicator and the sensor pack need to be pushed together. This way, the applicator can hold on to the sensor and insert it into the skin by simply pushing it onto the body. Afterwards, the sensor can be activated and shortly after, glucose levels are available.
In my experience, this is a simple and painless process. Only in a few cases I have experienced pain or bleeding, both of which had no impact on the accuracy of the sensor.
I usually wear the sensor on my left arm and have a hard time getting used to any other sites. But recently, I have been experimenting with some alternative sites and have had good results. I will report back on this soon.
Monitoring glucose levels with the Freestyle Libre
Of course the best part of using the Freestyle Libre is receiving information about your glucose levels without having to prick your finger. No test strips, lancets or blood needed! All you have to do is press the button of the reader device and scan the sensor. The result is a very informative graph with your recent glucose readings, your current glucose level and a trend arrow that indicates which way your glucose is going.
This ease of checking my glucose has completely transformed my way of living with diabetes. Whether I’m on the run, in the middle of a meeting, travelling, exercising or partying – with one swift move I can check my glucose. Fast, easy and pain-free. To me, that’s still incredible!
Accuracy of the Freestyle Libre
It is very important to note that the Freestyle Libre does not measure the glucose in your blood, but in the interstitial fluid. This means that it can show different results than your blood glucose meter – especially if your glucose is rising or falling at a fast pace. It has been said that there is a delay of 5-15 minutes between the glucose levels in the blood and in the interstitial fluid. So in a sense, the Freestyle Libre readings are delayed. That is why fingerpricks are still necessary from time to time. For me personally, this device has proven extremely accurate and I rely on it heavily.
It is not necessary to calibrate the Freestyle Libre, as it is factory calibrated. It is, however, also not possible to calibrate it. So if you find that your sensor is not accurate, there is not much you can do about it. Although I am glad that I do not have to bother with daily calibrations, I would have appreciated the option to calibrate.
The only trick to improve the accuracy of the sensor that I have heard about is applying the sensor up to 24 hours before activating it. I must admit that I do not understand the logic behind this, but it seems to work for many!
The Freestyle Libre reader device
Unfortunately, the quality of the reader device is a bit disappointing. Especially the touch screen requires a lot of patience and determination – i find it frustrating to use. After one year, my reader needed to be replaced since it no longer reacted to the insertion of test strips. On the plus side, the battery life is impressive. In my experience, the device can be used for 10-14 days before it needs to be recharged.
The reader also includes a conventional blood glucose meter and even a ketone meter, which is great. The corresponding test strips are individually packaged. This causes a lot of waste, but is quite convenient. After all, I do not use nearly as many test strips as I did before I switched to the Freestyle Libre. This way, I do not have to carry around a whole box of test strips.
The reader also has a few additional features. You can set reminders or enter additional data about carb intake, insulin injections or physical activity. But since I find the touchscreen too frustrating to handle, I do not make use of any of these features. The device also includes a bolus calculator, which is only available based on blood tests, not sensor scans. In my opinion, this is a fairly outdated setting.
Using Apps to scan the Freestyle Libre
As an alternative to the reader device, Abbott has developed the FreeStyle LibreLink App which enables smartphones to scan the sensor and show glucose levels. With the follower app LibreLinkUp this data can even be shared with family members or friends. After years and years of waiting, the app is now also available for both Android and iOS. I’ve been happily using the app since the February 2018 and I really like being able to scan with my phone. Also, my boyfriend is really enjoying the push notifications on his phone that show him my latest readings.
Since there is no synchronisation between the app and the original reader device, I try to still scan my sensor with the reader device every 8 hours. This way, I still have all glucose data in the reader device and can use the software to download and analyse my data.
It should be noted that these apps have not yet been introduced to all countries and languages. Moreover, the app does not work with all smartphone models. Currently, these are the compatible phones. To learn more, just visit Abbott’s website.
• Operating system: Android 5.0 or higher
• Near-Field Communication (NFC): Your smartphone must have NFC capabilities and NFC must be enabled.
• Phone models: iPhone 7 or higher
• Operating system: OS 11 or higher
Freestyle Libre Software: So! Much! Data!
The sensor is only able to store glucose data for 8 hours. Consequently, if you do not scan your sensor for longer than that, you will lose data and there will be a gap in the glucose graph.
The data can be analysed immediately on the reader device. It offers insights into daily patterns, low glucose events or time in range. I have personally found these very helpful.
The Abbott Freestyle Libre software (for Windows & iOS) however, offers far more detailed analyses, e.g. an Ambulatory Glucose Profile or an estimated A1c. It is possible to create thorough reports that can be saved or printed. It should be noted that the reader device can only save the data for 90 days, so you should export it on a regular basis if you want to avoid losing data.
Although this software has proven very helpful to me, I still think it’s a bit limited and not very modern. I would love to see some improvements here soon.
In Germany, we have had lots of discussions about data security and privacy. When using the Abbott software, glucose data is transmitted to Abbott servers in the USA. If you want to prevent this from happening, all you have to do is cut the internet connection while using the software.
Sensor Life & natural enemies of the Freestyle Libre
The sensor, as distributed in Germany, is designed to be used for 14 days and shuts down automatically after that. However in some countries, such as the US, the sensor is designed to last only 10 days.
To my knowledge, there is currently no way to reactivate it. In my experience, the sensor does really work for the full 14 days. Even when I sweat a lot, go for a hot bath or a swim in the salty ocean, or when strangers grab it, the sensor usually stays put.
But there are times when the adhesive peels off and I need to secure it with some tape. For me, this is not necessary on a regular basis, but only on rare occasions. I can recommend the brand Rocktape*, which I have had good experience with.
In my three years of using the Freestyle Libre, I did have to say goodbye to a few sensors before their 14 days were up. Some just wouldn’t stick to my skin, others fell prey to the natural enemies of the Freestyle Libre: Doorframes and bra straps! Be careful out there! 😉
Allergic skin reactions to the Freestyle Libre
Luckily, I have not suffered from any skin reactions to the Freestyle Libre. But of course I have seen the gruesome photos that people post in Facebook groups and I was shocked to see how many people are unable to use the product because of their allergic reactions.
Another blogger from Germany however, has suffered from these skin reactions, but found a way to avoid them, by placing a blister plaster* underneath the sensor. You can find out more about his method (in German) here.
Freestyle Libre Accessoires: Cases & Stickers!
Let’s be honest: As much as I enjoy using the Freestyle Libre, it’s really not much to look at! Just another medical device that looks plain boring. But it’s easy to change that: I’ve created a range of fun & colourful stickers for the Freestyle Libre that are now available in my little online shop at shop.pepmeup.org!
In addition, MyLibreCover offers silicone covers that can be purchased on Amazon*.
Criticism & room for improvement
Of course there is always room for improvement – even in a product that i am very satisfied with. I’m not really talking about hypo and hyper alarms, because this is simply the difference between CGM and FGM. But within the FGM system, there are some things that I would like to change.
For one, I think there needs to be some improvement regarding the adhesive. Too many users struggle with the sensor either not lasting or with awful skin reactions. I would also appreciate the option to calibrate the sensor in order to increase accuracy if necessary. In addition, I think the quality of the reader device can be improved, the software could use an update and of course I am also still waiting for the iOS App to come out. In the end, I hope that one day all medical devices, such as pumps and glucose meters, can interact with each other – including the Freestyle Libre. A girl can dream, right?
But most of all, I wish that everyone could have access to technology like this. I know how helpful it has been for me and there are many other who do not get it covered by health insurance or do not have access to it at all.
Thank you to the amazing Santiago who created this illustration for this article specifically!
Go check out his Instagram: @thediabeticsurvivor!
My conclusions on the Freestyle Libre
After three years of using the Freestyle Libre I am still a big fan! It is very comfortable to wear, it doesn’t bother me at all and it just makes me feel much more free, but secure at the same time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this device changed my life with diabetes. Before, I dreaded checking my glucose and never did it often enough. Today, I check my levels between 10 and 20 times per day. To me, this is unbelievable.
Whenever I am without a sensor for a few days, I feel like I’m back in the stone ages. A single glucose reading? What am I supposed to do with that? Without the glucose graph and the trend arrows I feel lost. I’m not sure if it is good to be so dependant on a device, but that’s a whole different issue. The fact is: This device has helped me a lot and still helps me every day.
On top of improving my personal diabetes management, the Freestyle Libre has sparked a lot of funny moments and conversations. „What is it? Is it a nicotine patch? An on-off button? A thermometer? A 3D tattoo?“. Moreover, it has been a source of inspiration to me and led me to start my own little range of fun & colourful stickers. This way, the Freestyle Libre can bring a bit of colour into your life with diabetes! Have a look at shop.pepmeup.org!
Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored by Abbott. All sensors were either paid by myself or were covered by my insurance. Everything you read here is my own opinion in my own words.