Managing diabetes with technology
Posted on 2 November 2020
These cutting-edge diabetes management tools could be a game changer for patients
Two technological advances in diabetes management can help patients with type 1 diabetes avoid some of its most severe complications, PLUS give them never-before-seen insights into how lifestyle and behaviour affect the disease.
“Over the past four years, I’ve had three hypoglycaemic fits where I had to be revived by paramedics,” says 36-year-old Pharro Fairley-Jurgens, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 18. “The last time it happened, my kids found me on the floor and yelled for their father. I had fallen and knocked myself out. I woke up to four paramedics telling me not to move, as they wanted to do brain scans and X-ray my spine. It broke my heart when they told me how strong my six-year-old twins responded and how they directed them to me in our bedroom. After that experience I got a continuous glucose monitor, which has literally been a lifesaver.”
Continuous glucose monitor: no more finger-pricking
The continuous glucose monitor (CGM) has been available in South Africa for about four years now, says Prof David Segal, an endocrinologist at Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg. “It’s basically a little patch about the size of a R5 coin with a tiny filament that gets inserted under your skin, and it continuously measures your blood sugar levels,” he explains. It connects to your smartphone, displaying your blood sugar levels as a graph that can also be shared with members of your care team – your doctor, partner, or, in the case of children, their parents. Some devices also have alarms that will alert you and your nominated team if your levels are trending too low or too high, preventing the terrifying blackouts that Pharro has experienced. “It’s the only reason I can sleep without stressing,” she says.
Closed-loop insulin pump: no more injecting
Like the CGM, this is a small gadget on the skin, connected to a small reservoir of insulin. A tiny needle then delivers insulin continuously into your body. Unlike the CGM, it’s covered by medical aid, although only on specific plans. Together, the two devices act like a healthy pancreas. “So, if your blood sugar is climbing, it’s going to give you more insulin and if it’s dropping, it’ll switch off the insulin,” Prof Segal explains. The result: your blood sugar stays within an accepted range and stable. “It really is a huge advance. Yes, you have to wear a device – two of them; a sensor and a pump – but your ability to go to bed at night knowing your blood sugar is not going to go too high or too low is priceless. In the case of children, being able to send them to school and knowing they have something looking after their diabetes is unbelievable.”
What about type 2 diabetes?
For those with type 2 diabetes, losing weight, eating healthily, and exercising remain the number one formula to manage the disease, says Prof Segal. But, he adds, new medications exist that not only lower blood sugar, but also the risk of cardiovascular and kidney damage. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, consult your doctor to ensure you’re on the best treatment plan.