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Smartphone Apps for Diabetes: Do They Really Work?

You can use them to count carbs, log blood sugar, but users say they're no substitute for patient knowledge and a doctor's care

WebMD News from HealthDay

People with left-brain dominance tend to listen

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Managing diabetes requires a great deal of time, memory and math skills. There are carbohydrates to count, medication doses to calculate and blood sugar levels to track.

Today, there are numerous applications for smartphones and other devices that can help you keep your diabetes in check, although some people with the disease will tell you the technology still has a ways to go.

Applications -- or "apps" -- can help you with nutrition advice, carb counting, tracking blood sugar levels, medication alerts and managing kids with diabetes.

Many apps are free, and some offer both paid and free versions. Paid options may offer more bells and whistles, but you might find what you need in a free app.

The big question is: Can these apps help make diabetes management easier?

That depends largely on whom you ask. Some people are thrilled to have the assistance of these programs, while others feel that the currently available apps don't do enough to make them worthwhile.

"It's never been easier to manage diabetes with all the technological stuff we have at our fingertips," said Steve Lisowski, who lives in Chicago. Lisowski has had type 2 diabetes for 15 years, and currently uses an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor to help manage his diabetes. He has used nutrition apps and an overall diabetes-management app.

Lisowski said he isn't currently using the diabetes app much because his insulin pump does a lot of the same calculations and tracking.

One thing Lisowski said he would like to see is more compatibility between devices so they could all share information. For example, he said, it would be helpful if the information from his pump could be wirelessly transmitted to an app on his phone.

Lynn Marie O'Flaherty, whose 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last June, said there's definitely room for improvement in diabetes apps.

"The diabetes apps I have found to date are very disappointing," said O'Flaherty, who is from Yonkers, N.Y. "There are so many things they could be helping type 1 diabetics manage better in their day-in-and-day-out lives."

No matter what apps you use, they're no substitute for regular visits to your doctor and education by a dietitian, an expert said.

"Apps don't replace your doctor," said Shelley Wishnick, a diabetes educator and registered dietitian with the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City. "You still have to understand the disease process. You have to understand your diabetes. An app can't replace your education."

Wishnick said she doesn't have a lot of patients who rely on diabetes apps yet -- or those who do don't bring it to her attention. There are a number of apps, such as iBGStar, OneTouch Reveal, OnTrack Diabetes, Glucool, Glooko and Glucose Buddy, that can help you track your blood sugar levels, she said.

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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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