Technology treating diabetes
New tech makes life a whole lot easier for these people living with diabetes. Their devices could save your life – now, and in the future.
If you had Type 1 diabetes before 1922, your only treatment was a low-carbohydrate diet. And even then, most people survived just three years before succumbing to the effects of insulin deficiency. Today, the condition is a lot easier to manage, thanks to smart pieces of tech that are smaller than your cellphone and can be carried in your pocket or handbag.
These gadgets put the control of glucose back into patients’ hands, says Dr Carsten Weinreich, an endocrinologist at Mediclinic Milnerton. “Every patient with diabetes should have a meter to monitor their blood glucose levels. Some patients need to test just once a day, provided their glucose is well-controlled, while others with complex insulin regimens and challenging lifestyles will need to test more frequently, up to seven times a day.”
If you’re testing your glucose levels with a needle, as well as injecting yourself with insulin fives times a day, that’s a total of 12 needle pricks per day – and over 4 000 in a year. Thankfully, there’s a smarter way.
Smart glucose monitoring
Today, a variety of blood glucose meters can integrate with your smartphone via Bluetooth. They upload current readings and represent the results in easy-to-read graphics, and store a long history of readings so you can access them later.
“Data is key in diabetes management,” says Dr Weinreich. “The more data available, the better advice your doctor can give.”
Now, the next level of smart monitoring has arrived. Three continuous glucose sensors are currently available in South Africa: the Freestyle Libre Glucose Monitoring System, the Meditronic Enlite Sensor and the Dexcom G5 Sensor.
On the way
The Eversense sensor is yet to be launched in SA. The sensor, which is implanted under your skin, lasts 90 days. It sends glucose readings to a Bluetooth-enabled transmitter on your skin’s surface, then directly to a smartphone. You will need to calibrate it twice a day, and it is easy to insert under local anaesthetic.
The FreeStyle Libre Blood glucose monitoring system has recently been introduced in South Africa. It is the smallest of all sensors and can be worn for two weeks at a time and does not require any calibration. Its sensor needs to be scanned at least every eight hours to transfer data to the phone or reading device, and it is the least expensive of the three sensors.
Tshepo “Howza” Mosese
The actor and musician was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 10 years ago, just as his music group was about to secure a record deal. “I suddenly felt weird,” Howza recalls. “My weight was dropping fast, I was dehydrated, exhausted and my eyesight was strained. When I learnt I had diabetes, I was shocked – the thought of having to change my lifestyle was frightening. I was a rock star. I lived a wild life of indulgence, drinking heavily and eating whatever I liked.”
Howza’s healthy lifestyle adjustments extended to both his diet and his exercise regime, he says. “I’ve become more conscious of what I’m putting into my body and aware of my blood glucose. It’s an ongoing challenge.”
Howza uses the Eversense glucose monitoring system, which measures blood glucose from tissue fluid just below the skin’s surface. “I gym regularly, and this sensor makes monitoring my blood glucose levels easy. It gives me a better understanding of how different foods affect blood glucose.”
Diagnosed in 2016 with Type 1 diabetes, Mariana is a busy 13-year-old who says she feels just like “a normal kid”. This is thanks to her awareness of the importance of eating correctly, and her efforts to learn as much as possible about diabetes management.
Mariana takes slow-release insulin twice a day and fast-acting insulin to manage her blood glucose (BG) levels between meals. She uses the Freestyle Libre blood glucose monitoring system to read her levels. Every time she scans, the levels are recorded so she can monitor and manage her blood glucose over time. As the system requires no finger-pricking, her parents can scan her at night while she sleeps, to ensure she is within the safe range at all times.
Mariana avoids all sugar products and food high in carbohydrates. Her family has adopted a similar diet to support her. Mariana’s successful adaptation to her new life in such a short space of time shows that with the help of technology and lifestyle changes, a person living with diabetes can maintain normal glucose levels and can live a full and active life, without complications.