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Managing type 2 diabetes with technology
In my experience, having type 2 diabetes can feel like a lifelong science experiment.
You have to track what you eat and then measure the food’s effect on your blood sugar levels. If you take insulin, you have to calculate the correct amount to compensate for the number of carbs you’ve eaten. If you exercise, you need to factor that in as well.
A variety of technologies and devices exist that can help you manage all of this — and it can make a big difference.
The most important device for someone with diabetes to have is a glucose meter, also called a glucometer. After a quick finger stick, you’ll know your blood sugar level at that particular point in time.
Even if you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you’ll still need to occasionally use a meter. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a glucometer:
- Will your insurance plan cover the test strips? Meters are often free; test strips are not.
- Is the display easy to read? Does it light up so you can take a reading in the dark?
- Are the buttons intuitive and easy to push?
- Is the meter a good size for you?
- Can you easily share data with your healthcare providers?
- Can you track other things like insulin, carb intake, and exercise?
- Can you make notes with each reading?
Decide what’s most important to you and select a meter accordingly. The most important things to me are cost, data sharing, and the ability to make notes.
There truly are apps for everything these days. In the diabetes world, apps can:
- track your blood sugar levels and show trends
- monitor your diet
- log your exercise
- provide a peer support community
- give access to highly trained diabetes educators and fitness coaches
By far, the app I’ve used the most to help manage my diet is MyFitnessPal. I can enter my own recipes, track how many carbs I eat in a day, and log my exercise. The app LoseIt! offers similar capabilities.
Social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram link me up with other folks who have diabetes so I can learn from them. Other intriguing apps I’ve seen mentioned are Diabetes:M and mySugr. Both seem to offer a more comprehensive approach to diabetes management, but I haven’t personally used either one.
My ideal app would integrate the food-related features of LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal, the blood sugar monitoring of LibreLink, the fitness tracking and exercise advice of MyFitnessPal and GlucoseZone, and the peer support available on social media.
My ultimate dream is to be able to wave my phone over food at a restaurant and instantly know how many carbs are on my plate. (App developers, are you listening?)
After hearing about CGMs like those from Dexcom and Medtronic from members of my support group, I finally asked my doctor about them. A huge fan of the FreeStyle Libre, he said the device had allowed many of his patients with type 2 diabetes to dramatically improve their A1C.
The FreeStyle Libre comes in two parts: the sensor and the reader. The sensor attaches to the back of your arm. You wave the reader over the sensor to get a blood sugar reading.
Most insurance plans balk at covering a CGM unless you take insulin, so you may need to pay out of pocket. The reader is a one-time purchase — for me, it was $65 — but you’ll need a new sensor every 14 days. I was able to get two sensors for $75. Your pricing may vary.
Wearing a CGM has worked well for me so far. I totally forget I’m wearing it, and I love having access to all of the data and graphs it provides. I check my blood sugar a lot more often, and I can even take a reading with my phone.
The biggest thing I’ve learned so far? When I cook at home, my blood sugar quickly spikes and then comes back down within an hour or two. When I eat out, even when I think I’m making good food choices, my blood sugar goes up and stays up for several hours.
If you don’t understand why your A1C is higher than you’d like, don’t check your blood sugar very often because you hate finger sticks, or just like analyzing data, I highly recommend a CGM if it fits within your budget.
Other technology and devices you might find useful for diabetes management include medication pens, insulin pumps, and fitness trackers.
Pens allow injected medications to be delivered conveniently and accurately. Insulin pumps deliver insulin 24 hours a day via a catheter inserted under the skin. Fitness trackers are basically wearable minicomputers that log how much you move during the day. Some of them monitor your heart rate and how well you sleep too.
You can make your never-ending type 2 diabetes science project easier by using devices and technology that work for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You just might find something that makes managing your condition more convenient and less daunting.
Shelby Kinnaird, author of The Diabetes Cookbook for Electric Pressure Cookers and The Pocket Carbohydrate Counter Guide for Diabetes, publishes recipes and tips for people who want to eat healthy at Diabetic Foodie, a website often stamped with a “top diabetes blog” label. Shelby is a passionate diabetes advocate who likes to make her voice heard in Washington, DC and she leads two DiabetesSisters support groups in Richmond, Virginia. She has successfully managed her type 2 diabetes since 1999.