Diabetes Health

Weighing the Benefits of New Diabetes Technology

Newfangled devices make it easier than ever to monitor blood sugar, but an analysis of more than 30 studies suggests that newer isn't necessarily better in terms of blood sugar control.

Photo of a woman talking with her doctor

At issue are continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps. A continuous glucose monitor is placed under the skin to help someone with type 1 or type 2 diabetes track blood sugar levels throughout the day. Insulin pumps are also placed under the skin and replace the need for daily insulin injections.

People with diabetes who take insulin must track their blood sugar to ensure that their body maintains a healthy blood sugar level. Too much or too little insulin can cause unhealthy blood sugar levels and result in complications such as dizziness or kidney and heart disease.

Daily monitoring

To manage their blood sugar, people with diabetes must monitor it several times a day. Usually, this means pricking a finger to draw blood. The drop of blood is then placed on a test strip and inserted into a blood glucose monitor. Continuous glucose monitors don't replace traditional finger-stick blood testing, but they do cut the number of tests needed.

But the devices - in combination or alone - don't seem to give any better control over blood sugar than more traditional methods. Researchers came to that conclusion after comparing A1C levels of people with diabetes. A1C levels provide a two- to three-month snapshot of blood sugar control.

"We found similar levels of glycemic control and hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] when we compared insulin pumps versus multiple daily injections," says study author Sherita Hill Golden, M.D., at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Pumps do help

Dr. Golden says that people who use an insulin pump did report a somewhat better quality of life. She also says that people with type 1 diabetes who used a pump did slightly better than people who used other methods.

Results showed only a 0.10 percent drop in hemoglobin A1C levels among children and adolescents who used a pump compared with multiple shots. This difference is so slight as to be insignificant.

In adults, the researchers found the drop in A1C was 0.30 percent for those on a pump compared with those on shots. They didn't find any significant difference in the risk for severe hypoglycemia between the two.

Comparable numbers

When continuous glucose monitors were compared with individual blood-glucose monitoring, A1C levels were lowered by 0.26 percent without increasing the risk for severe hypoglycemia. And, the sensor-augmented pump - a device that combines the two technologies - reduced A1C levels by 0.68 percent in people with type 1 diabetes.

Dr. Golden says the main factor in whether the new technology helped was how consistent the person was in using it.

The analysis had some limitations. The studies looked at were small, and some of the insulin pump studies used a different type of insulin from what is now commonly prescribed.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Diabetes Association - Insulin Pumps

CDC - Blood Glucose Monitoring and Insulin Administration

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - Continuous Glucose Monitoring

September 2012

When Blood Sugar Levels Get Out of Control

The main goal of diabetes treatment for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as safely possible. Some people need medication, such as insulin shots, injected medicines, or pills. If you have diabetes, you need regular screening tests for possible complications.

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar is also called hypoglycemia. It can happen when you have an imbalance between the calories you eat and the calories you burn during exercise. You can develop low blood sugar if you eat less than planned or exercise more than planned. Hypoglycemia can be serious if not treated quickly.

High blood sugar

High blood sugar is called hyperglycemia. This can happen if you eat more than planned or exercise less than planned. It's also possible if you have an illness, such as a cold or flu, or extreme emotional stress; or if you don't take your medications correctly. Your doctor can treat hyperglycemia by adjusting your meal plan or medication, or by having you exercise more.

Complications of prolonged high blood sugar

Hyperglycemia that continues for years can cause serious complications, including an increased risk for heart attacks and stroke, kidney failure, circulatory problem and nerve damage. These can lead to amputations, eyes disorders, skin disorders, and gum disease.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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