You're back home from the doctor and the news is starting to sink in: You've got diabetes and need to get your blood sugar levels under control. As you wrap your mind around the changes you have to make, spend a little time scoping out the devices and supplies that help keep your disease in check. Each of them plays a different role in managing diabetes and preventing complications.
Insulin, Insulin Syringes, and Insulin Pens
Your doctor may suggest you take insulin to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high. It's a hormone that an organ called the pancreas makes to help you use or store sugar in the foods you eat.
If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas has stopped making insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, the organ makes insulin, but your body doesn't use it right.
Your doctor may recommend one of several types of insulin:
- Regular or short-acting
Each works differently based on how long they take to start working, when they reach maximum strength, and how long they last.
There are a few strengths of insulin, but the most common is U-100 (100 units per milliliter of fluid). You'll need to inject insulin from one to four times a day, depending on what your doctor suggests.
You can do this with a syringe, which draws a dose of insulin from a bottle. Or you can use an insulin pen, which is either prefilled or has an insertable cartridge. There is also a type of insulin that you inhale.
Instead of shots, your doctor may suggest an insulin pump. It continuously gives you short- or rapid-acting insulin. You'll still need to test your blood sugar levels, but you may find a pump helps you control them better.
Insulin pumps are small, and you can easily attach one to your waistband, sock, or underwear. It's connected to a thin tube known as a catheter, which you put under your skin with a needle.
The catheter regularly delivers insulin from the pump in small doses that are programmed and vary throughout the day and night. You'll also press a button on the pump to give yourself insulin in another larger dose when you eat to break down the carbohydrates in your meal. This imitates the way your body naturally uses insulin.
Blood Sugar Meters, Blood Lancets, and Diabetic Test Strips
A blood sugar meter, also known as a blood glucose meter or a glucometer, is a portable electronic device that measures your blood sugar to make sure it's not too high or too low.
First you'll use a blood lancet, an instrument that quickly pricks your skin, to draw a small sample of blood. Place a drop onto the edge of a disposable diabetic test strip. Insert the strip into the monitor and wait for it to display your blood sugar level. Log your results to help your doctor confirm that your treatment plan is working.
Your doctor will let you know how often you need to use your blood sugar meter. If you're checking for low blood sugar levels, test yourself if you feel shaky, nervous, lightheaded, confused, hungry, sweaty, or sleepy.
Ketone Test Strips
When your body doesn't have enough insulin to use sugar, it breaks down fat for energy instead. This makes a substance called ketones. High ketone levels in your urine is a sign your diabetes is out of control.
Your doctor may ask you to use ketone test strips when you have symptoms of high ketone levels, such as:
- Blood sugar level of 240 mg/dL or higher
- Feel sick or tired all the time
- Often thirsty or have dry mouth
- Feel confused
- Hard time breathing
To take a ketone test at home, pee into a clean cup and place the strip inside. Shake off excess urine and wait for the strip to change color -- the instructions will tell you how long it takes. Compare the color on the strip to the kit's color chart. If your ketone levels are low, retest in a couple of hours. If your levels are moderate or high, see your doctor right away.
Glucose Tablets and Glucagon
When you're first learning to manage your blood sugar levels, it's not unusual for them to fall too low. If they do, you'll need to get them back up quickly to avoid dangerous complications like seizures. That's why it's a good idea to have glucose tablets on hand. They're fast-acting sugar pills you can take when you have symptoms of hypoglycemia or when your blood sugar is low (usually below 70 mg/dL).
If your levels become too low and you lose consciousness, someone else will need to give you a shot of glucagon. This hormone makes your liver release stored glucose into your bloodstream.
Diabetes Food Stash
To keep your blood glucose at good levels, it's a good idea to have:
- Glucose tablets or other emergency sugar sources
- Healthy snacks for between meals
- Low-sugar drinks (including water) to stay hydrated
Keep a good supply of fast-acting sugars in several places -- such as a backpack, purse, gym locker, and car -- in case of sugar lows. Glucose tablets are easy to carry. Other possible sources include apple or orange juice or regular soda. Chocolate is not good because it takes longer to digest. If you live with other people, let them know these supplies are not for them to eat.
Diabetes Medical Alert Bracelet
If you're in an emergency situation, a diabetes medical alert bracelet or necklace can help paramedics or doctors treat you when you can't speak for yourself. Many people with diabetes have one, especially those who use insulin.
A medical alert bracelet can mention things such as:
- You take insulin
- Types of allergies
- Emergency contact name and phone number
Skin Care Supplies
Diabetes can affect every part of your body. Prevent dry skin and tend to cuts or other wounds right away -- it can help prevent infections and skin conditions. These items can help you care for your skin:
- Mild or moisturizing soap
- Skin moisturizer
- Antibiotic cream or ointment (if your doctor advises using it), sterile gauze, and paper tape or cloth bandages for cuts
- Mild shampoo
Foot Care Supplies
Take good care of your feet to help yourself avoid foot problems that people with diabetes tend to have. These supplies can help:
- Toenail scissors and an emery board or nail file
- Mirror, if needed, to help you inspect your feet daily for cuts or blisters
- Seamless, padded socks if you have nerve damage in your feet
Dental Care Supplies
Diabetes raises your chances of getting gum disease and other dental problems. Keep these supplies handy for daily mouth care:
- A toothbrush with soft, rounded bristles, which are less likely to hurt your gums than the stiffer bristles on a standard brush
- Fluoride toothpaste
- Dental floss, to clean away plaque and food from between teeth and below the gum line
- Antiseptic mouthwash to rinse daily
Replace your toothbrush when the bristles are worn, or every 3 to 4 months.
Diabetes Emergency Supplies
For emergencies, have on hand:
- Medical alert ID (such as a bracelet, necklace, or card) that says you have diabetes
- Emergency contact information
- Emergency preparedness supplies
The American Diabetes Association recommends storing 7 days' worth of diabetes supplies in case of emergencies such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, or blizzards. Depending on how you manage your diabetes, this could include diabetes pills, insulin and insulin supplies, extra batteries, and quick-acting sources of glucose, as well as standard supplies such as food that doesn't spoil, and water.
Store these supplies in a waterproof container in a place where you can get to them easily. You may want to keep a set of emergency supplies at home, work, and in your car.
Gaps in Diabetes Treatment
Not everyone has the same access to insulin pumps. Some factors can make it harder for you to get the treatment you need.
One study found that non-Hispanic Black children with type 1 diabetes were less likely to start treatment with a continuous blood sugar monitor. These children were also less likely to stick to a treatment plan with a blood sugar monitor, if their doctor started them on one.
Another study noted that more people have started to use insulin pumps. But this study found that there weren't any big changes in the gaps between the groups of people who used them. This means that while a bigger percentage of people with diabetes now use insulin pumps, many communities within this group still face issues with access.
- Hispanic, Black, and other races with diabetes are a lot less likely to use insulin pumps than white people with the condition.
- People with no degree, a high school degree, or some college were less likely to use an insulin pump than those with a bachelor's degree or other advanced degrees.
- Those who have public insurance were less likely to use an insulin pump compared to people with private insurance.
- People in households that make a yearly income of less than $25,000, within $25,000-$49,000, and within $50,000-$74,000 were less likely to use insulin pumps as compared to people in households that make $75,000 or more.
Another study found the same trend. Between 2001 and 2005, about 30% of people with diabetes used an insulin pump. Between 2016 and 2019, about 58% of those with the condition used an insulin pump. But even though the percentage shot up, there were no changes within the amount of use within incomes, race, or education level over time.
Because of these issues, it's important that experts look into the factors that block certain groups from treatment. This can help them find better ways to reach a more diverse group of people with diabetes.