Wearable Technology For Diabetes: Beyond the Fitness Tracker
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
Managing active type 1 diabetes can be disruptive, especially if you need frequent insulin injections. You must get regular checkups, monitor your blood glucose levels, and inject insulin through sharp needles.
This can be a struggle, especially if you have a needle phobia or sensitive skin.
Fortunately, diabetes management technology has progressed far enough for most people with diabetes to live normal lives. Nowadays, you can get continuous glucose monitoring with wearable, non-intrusive technology.
You’re probably thinking about fitness trackers and smartwatches. Yes, these help. But let's explore other effective wearable technologies to help you live life to the fullest as a diabetes patient.
Wearable technology has been around for a while, but its application for managing diabetes has only recently been improved. You’re probably already aware of smartwatches for tracking heart rate, activity levels, blood pressure, and other health indicators.
Most of these devices have simple sensors that measure your blood pressure- and, therefore, your heart rate and activity levels. They, however, can’t read —or predict— blood glucose levels.
That’s what a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device is made for, though.
An artificial pancreas works with the same technology but is also connected to an insulin pump to administer insulin immediately.
Here’s a breakdown of these tech devices that should streamline diabetes management:
A recent study on the use of wearable technology to manage diabetes shows promise. However, not all devices are easily available and some can only be administered by a certified healthcare provider.
That said, there are multiple options to choose from, including:
Continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMs) measure blood sugar levels regularly to help you get real-time glucose readings. While previously, people with diabetes had to measure their blood glucose levels through a finger-prick test, you can now get continuous monitoring with a CGM.
These devices use a tiny sensor to measure blood glucose and body temperature through the interstitial fluid (fluid between the body cells) without needing to collect blood.
A CGM system takes regular readings and sends them to your smartphone via a mobile app. It’s simple, yet effective and the best part is that most CGM devices are about the size of a coin that can be scanned for information or may send data directly to your phone.
Insulin pumps are an effective alternative to injecting insulin through needles.
They work by injecting insulin through a thin tube placed underneath your skin. The insulin is then spread through the subcutaneous fat layers, allowing your body to absorb it much faster.
This device is great for avoiding needles and prevents damage to your skin, apart from ensuring more effective results.
An insulin pump should prevent hyperglycemia, but it needs to be closely monitored and fed with information to avoid hypoglycemia. Inserting information about exercise and carb content is crucial to keep an insulin pump working as it should.
Smartwatches have been around for quite a while, but only recent versions work with continuous glucose monitors. These watches transfer CGM data to your smartphone for real-time blood glucose monitoring.
Some can even be configured to notify you via email or text, along with a few trusted contacts, when your blood sugar levels drop below a certain threshold.
Smartwatches are better than simple CGM systems because you can use them to monitor other health factors, like daily activity, heart rate, and body temperature.
If you only want to wear one device to manage type 1 diabetes, consider getting an artificial pancreas. It’s a combination of an insulin pump and a CGM device, and it functions as a regular pancreas would.
While it’s more bulky than a regular insulin pump, you won’t have to use a separate device to check your blood glucose level and inject insulin.
The NHS has conducted clinical trials on using artificial pancreas to control blood glucose levels and recommended its use for pregnant women and people with diabetes at a more critical stage.
However, these can be expensive, bulky, or not covered by your insurance company. In this case, combining a CGM and an insulin pump can be just as beneficial.
If you’re someone living with type 1 diabetes, you know how challenging it can be to manage it. You must monitor blood glucose levels regularly, take multiple daily insulin injections, and monitor your food to calculate bolus doses.
It can get tedious to do this, especially if you also have other responsibilities. And for caregivers, staying on top of ever-changing glucose and activity levels for a child or a disabled person can be overwhelming.
This is where wearable technology is handy. You can monitor blood glucose levels in real-time and replenish insulin without lancets or needles.
Getting your finger pricked several times a day to test your blood sugar levels can be frustrating. A CGM system helps eliminate this inconvenience.
Not only do you get real-time blood sugar level results, but you can also set up alerts when your insulin levels are too low.
This can help prevent health issues caused by not taking insulin on time or taking too much insulin, leading to hypoglycemia.
Doctors recommend that you test your blood sugar levels before meals and bedtime. This could involve test strips or finger pricking and can be painful. With wearable blood glucose monitoring technology, you can just scan the sensor or check your smartphone app for an instant reading.
If using needles to insert insulin after every meal doesn’t bother you, carrying them around might. Doctors recognize that patients feel less conspicuous using an insulin pen, because they don’t have to carry needles and testing kits wherever they go.
That’s why more people are shifting towards wearable technology. Think about it - a simple glucose monitor can be as small as a coin.
Pairing that with a needle-free insulin kit that can easily fit in your pocket, especially if you have a needle phobia, makes diabetes management much simpler and more streamlined.
Besides being more convenient, smart devices used to manage diabetes can be more effective. They’re not as in-depth as blood tests done by health professionals, but these devices help reduce the chance of human error affecting your results.
Also, having more frequent tests ensures more accurate glucose trends.
Yes, but this doesn’t mean the technology doesn’t have its downsides. Sure, it’s more convenient and gives you real-time blood sugar monitoring, but you must learn how to use it properly.
This can be difficult for the elderly and children, who may have difficulty adjusting to the new tech. The kits can also be expensive initially, and many people may need to see the long-term savings they bring.
Let’s compare the pros and cons of wearable technology for diabetics:
So, while it’s proven that the wearable tech for diabetes works, you’ll need to work out whether it’s for you. We recommend looking at long-term benefits as most downsides will only affect you in the short term.
Wearable technology can be great for assisting people with diabetes, but what if you are at risk of getting diabetes? Can these gadgets help you predict whether you’ll get it in the future or help prevent you from getting diabetes?
Yes, some wearable devices that monitor glucose levels may help detect prediabetes, assisting with faster treatment. However, none of the blood sugar monitoring devices are specifically designed for this purpose.
If you suspect you’re at risk of developing diabetes, you can wear a CGM for a few months and share the data with your doctor. They may analyze whether you show risk factors of prediabetes.
It’s not perfect, but you can get pretty close predictions.
An article in Penn Medicine News explored a recent study on the use of wearable devices in diabetes prediction. They concluded that you can predict diabetes with as little as six months of blood glucose monitoring data. Still, the AI-integrated prediction models are not yet available for the mainstream healthcare system.
You can get insulin patches and insulin pumps that inject insulin via a tiny tube. However, for some patients, using a non-invasive needle-free insulin device that injects insulin without using needles can be better.
Insulin pumps, CGM, smartwatches, insulin patches, and artificial pancreas are some of the devices that can help improve your lifestyle when managing diabetes.
Clinical trials have proven that these devices are effective, and some have already become mainstream.
However, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before switching to wearable devices to manage your diabetes.
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