“The closest thing yet to an artificial pancreas.”
“A remarkable, life-changing technology.”
“A big step toward lessening the burden of type 1 diabetes.”
Those are just some of the comments made by physicians and diabetes educators about a new way to cope with type 1 diabetes that has revolutionized how patients manage this chronic disease.
Two devices now communicate with each other to ease diabetes challenges
For the past couple of years, people with type 1 diabetes have had access to two tools that have dramatically changed how they administer insulin and monitor their blood glucose levels:
- the insulin pump, a device attached to the user that replaces self-administered insulin injections; and,
- the continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a digital device also worn by the user that monitors glucose levels 24/7, eliminating the need for pricking the finger every few hours to check glucose levels.
“There are just so many times you can stick your child’s finger,” says Jen, mother of 7-year-old Sophie, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes this year. “The CGM gives Sophie the freedom to lead a more normal life.”
These two breakthrough technologies were life-changing in themselves. But in 2020, manufacturers took these devices to a new level: They connected them via Bluetooth to create a hybrid closed-loop system that enables the CGM to trigger the insulin pump into action automatically, whenever insulin levels get too low or too high.
And with Bluetooth communications, the user’s mobile phone provides a readout of blood glucose levels around the clock.
And a recent study* published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teens and young adults using these monitors had better long-term blood sugar control than those who used manual blood sugar monitoring.
Meet Stella, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 9
Stella, 15, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the end of fourth grade, right before summer vacation. “I felt really bad about it then,” she recalls. “But now I feel the diagnosis has helped me get stronger in every way. I have a kind of can-do attitude about everything now, not just diabetes.”
With advances in technology, she can now sleep through the night, do the activities she likes, and take tests in school without having to explain to her teachers that no, she’s not looking at her phone—she’s just checking her glucose pump.
“I’m in Color Guard at school, and it’s a big help not to have to take a break while we’re working out to go check my levels,” she says. “If I’m increasing my activity, my Bluetooth system just lets my glucose monitor talk to my insulin pump to make adjustments automatically.”
“Because of Bluetooth, Stella’s insulin pump now has brains,” notes Jeff, Stella’s dad.
Bluetooth provides benefits for the whole family
“Now we can sleep through the night without worrying about finger sticks and glucose levels,” says Sarah, Stella’s mom.
Parents can even keep track of their child’s blood glucose levels when the child is away, by connecting the child’s monitor to their own mobile phone.
And patients can set the monitor for a target overnight level without needing to awaken every few hours to check it.
Most of all, the new system lets kids socialize, exercise, and eat when they want to.
Diabetes and COVID-19
As we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that some parents are reluctant to seek care for their ill or injured children because of concerns about exposure to the coronavirus.
If you think your child may be showing signs of diabetes, seek care immediately! The risk of a diabetic coma or the onset of ketoacidosis (a side effect of diabetes) is far more serious than that of exposure to COVID-19.
It’s always prudent to be careful about exposing children to any disease. But it’s crucial to understand that physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, and hospital emergency rooms are all following scrupulous standards to maintain cleanliness and safety, to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.
Signs your child may be developing diabetes include:
- Frequent urination, including awakening at night to urinate.
- Weight loss.
- Excessive thirst.
If you observe these conditions in your child, don’t wait. Call your physician, or go to an urgent care center or emergency room for an assessment.
*Laffel LM, Kanapka LG, Beck RW, et al. Effect of Continuous Glucose Monitoring on Glycemic Control in Adolescents and Young Adults With Type 1 Diabetes: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020;323(23):2388–2396. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6940.