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4 New High-Tech Tools to Help Control Diabetes

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WebMD Feature

Diabetes can make huge demands on you. For many patients, the daily routine involves painful finger sticks, glucose tests, and insulin injections -- all in an effort to keep blood sugar and diabetes under control.

But newer devices, such as continuous glucose monitors, may make it easier for many of the nation's 21 million people with diabetes to control the disease, according to Aaron Kowalski, PhD. Director of strategic research projects at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Kowalski is himself a type 1 diabetes patient. "We think there are some new technologies that hold tremendous promise," he says. "It's an exciting time."

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Not all new devices make it, though. Some have fizzled after the fanfare. The GlucoWatch was a wristwatch-like device that measured glucose from fluid through the skin. Many hoped it would replace the difficult finger stick. "The expectations were extremely high," says Kowalski. "But it was disappointing on many levels."

Among the problems? Skin irritation and inaccurate readings.

But Kowalski and other experts predict that newer technologies that aim to help people control their diabetes may fare much better. And controlling diabetes is very important. Over time, long-term, high blood sugar can lead to eye, heart, kidney, and nerve disease and other complications. Low blood sugar can also quickly trigger immediate emergencies, such as seizures, coma, and death.

Here's WebMD's roundup of some of the breakthroughs in diabetes control tools.

New Diabetes Control Tools: Continuous Glucose Monitors

Many people with diabetes lance their fingers 2 or more times a day to check glucose levels. But even with as many as 9 finger sticks a day, patients still spend less than 30 percent of the day in a normal range, Kowalski says. "It's often a teeter-totter that a person with diabetes stands on."

Now, imagine getting a glucose reading every 5 minutes. That's 288 readings in 24 hours -- or almost 100 times what one would get with 3 finger sticks a day.

Thanks to the continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), this is possible. With a CGM, the user inserts a disposable, needle-like sensor under abdominal skin. The sensor measures glucose in tissue fluid, not blood. The sensor then transmits the data every 5 minutes to a monitor.

"It shows graphically what the patient's glucose level is doing in real time 24 hours a day," says Steve Sabicer, spokesman for Medtronic. (This is the company that introduced the first CGM in 2005.)

When people can see glucose trends continuously, they can make "real-time" decisions, says David Klonoff MD, FACP, Medical Director of the Diabetes Research Institute at Mills-Peninsula Health Services in San Mateo, California. For example, it helps them know when to inject insulin or to eat. "They can take action right now. They spend less time with high blood sugar and less time with low blood sugar."

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