Diabetes is a serious disease that happens when your body has trouble managing and using blood glucose, a sugar that your body uses as fuel. When you have diabetes, you must constantly monitor your blood sugar levels. And now, fortunately, new technologies are being tested to make it easier for you to control diabetes and to help you stay healthy.
More than 100 million Americans are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. People with diabetes must frequently check their blood glucose (or blood sugar) and take quick action if it gets too high or low. They must also constantly consider how all meals, physical activity, and things like stress will affect their blood glucose.
How people with diabetes manage their blood glucose levels depends, in part, on the type of diabetes they have. The most common are type 1, and type 2.
With type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough of acalled insulin. Insulin signals the body’s cells to let glucose inside. The body can’t produce enough insulin because the immune system, your body’s defense against germs and foreign substances, mistakenly attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that make insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common. It occurs when either your body’s cells have trouble using insulin or your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to handle the glucose in your blood.
Both types can develop at any age. Type 1 is most often diagnosed in children and young adults, while type 2 shows up most in middle-age and older people.
Diabetes symptoms can vary by type. Some shared symptoms include increased thirst, hunger, and urination. Symptoms of type 1 can start quickly, over a few weeks. Type 2 symptoms tend to develop slowly over years, making them less noticeable.
Diabetes: Blood Glucose Control
Many people with diabetes check their blood glucose with a blood glucose meter. This portable machine measures how much glucose is in the blood. You get a drop of blood by pricking the side of your fingertip with a small, specialized needle. Then you apply the blood to a test strip. The meter shows you how much glucose is in your blood at that moment.
People with type 1 diabetes, and some people with type 2, correct and manage their blood glucose with injections of synthetic insulin. A missed, or miscalculated, dose can lead to serious complications, immediately and over time. Diabetes increases your risk for blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation.
Diabetes: New Technology To The Rescue
NIH funded-scientists are testing promising technologies to help people better manage diabetes. For example, “artificial pancreas” systems monitor blood glucose levels and provide insulin, or a combination of insulin and another important hormone, automatically. The devices vary in how easy they are to set up and use.
One new device is the iLet, which minimizes the guesswork that comes with managing type 1 diabetes. Get started by just typing in your body weight. The system does the heavy lifting of regulating blood glucose, thus putting less stress on the liver.
Safety is a priority for researchers. A recent study showed that an artificial pancreas system improved glucose control in adolescents with type 1 diabetes as they participated in winter sports, like skiing and snowboarding.
One FDA-approved artificial pancreas is already available for people with diabetes. Researchers are considering how to use these systems for people with type 2, gestational diabetes, and other conditions involving elevated blood glucose levels.
Diabetes: More Technology
Other scientists are taking different approaches to replace insulin more effectively. For example, “smart insulins” can become active only when needed. Most important, researchers are also looking for ways to regenerate or replace insulin-producing cells, and to stop the body from attacking them.
These technologies will help make managing the disease easier and will help make people who use them healthier.
You can learn how to manage this disease with the tools we have now to live a long, healthy life. For example, medications, glucose monitors, and insulin pumps are all available now to help people.
Finally, if you have diabetes, talk with your health care provider about your options.