Diabetes Devices from A to Z

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on July 7, 2017Written by Stephanie Watson on July 7, 2017

Diabetes is a manageable disease, but it takes a good amount of work and some special gear to keep your blood sugar level within range and prevent complications. Some diabetes devices help you monitor your blood sugar levels, while others deliver insulin if (and when) you need it.

Here’s a rundown of all the different devices you might use to manage diabetes.

Artificial pancreas

The newest addition to the field of diabetes devices is so high tech that it can mimic the action of your real pancreas. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first artificial pancreas, called the MiniMed 670G, in September 2016. It’s designed for people with type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes who need insulin.

The artificial pancreas constantly monitors your blood sugar level through a sensor you wear on your skin. It sends the reading to an insulin infusion pump that you wear on your body. When your blood sugar is too high, the pump automatically releases insulin through a tube called a catheter. It also releases a continuous small amount of insulin called a basal dose throughout the day.

Blood glucose meter

Measuring your blood sugar gives you — and your doctor — a window to see how well you’re controlling your diabetes. Having persistently high blood sugar can put you at risk for complications like nerve damage and kidney problems. Good blood sugar control can help you avoid these issues.

You use a blood glucose meter to test your blood sugar throughout the day. Here’s how it works: You use a lancet or other sharp device to prick your finger. Then you place a drop of blood on the test strip and insert it into the machine. The meter will tell you whether your blood sugar is too low (in which case you might need to eat some fast-acting carbohydrates) or too high (in which case you might need to take insulin).

Depending on which type of diabetes you have, you may need to test your blood sugar first thing in the morning, before meals, before and after you exercise, and before bedtime.

Continuous glucose monitor

These monitors are like automated blood glucose meters. They give you an overview of your blood sugar levels throughout the day to help you fine-tune your treatment.

A small sensor goes under your skin. It measures the blood sugar levels in fluid around your skin cells. A transmitter that sits on top of the sensor sends the data on your blood sugar levels wirelessly to a receiver, which stores that information so you can share it with your doctor.

Some continuous glucose monitors also contain a pump that delivers insulin.

Insulin pen

If you’re not a fan of syringes, an insulin pen can be a quick and easy way to give yourself insulin. It looks and feels much like a pen you’d use to write with, but instead of ink, it contains insulin. Some insulin pens come preloaded with insulin. Others require you to change the disposable insulin cartridge.

To use an insulin pen, you dial in the correct dose, insert the needle into your abdomen (or wherever you normally inject), and press the button to release insulin.

Insulin pump

If you’re giving yourself multiple doses of insulin throughout the day, it may be easier to use a pump than a syringe or pen. The pump works kind of like your own pancreas. It releases small amounts of insulin throughout the day, and larger doses at mealtimes. You (with your doctor’s help) simply program in how much insulin to deliver and when to deliver it.

Jet injectors

These devices are for people who are fearful of needles or who find injections too painful. A jet injector uses high-pressured air to push a spray of insulin through your skin — without needles. Then the insulin moves through your skin into your bloodstream.

The bottom line

There are a variety of different monitors, pumps, and injectors on the market. Talk to your doctor and work with a certified diabetes educator (CDE) to determine not only which device is best for you, but also which brand will be best to suit your individual needs, as there are many different features to choose from. Also, ensure that you feel educated and comfortable with how to use the devices.

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