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Avoiding Low Blood Sugar Episodes with Technology

New technology that permits continuous blood glucose monitoring can help people with diabetes avoid dangerous low blood sugar episodes.

People who use insulin to control their diabetes must walk a tightrope. On the one hand, they need to keep blood sugar from soaring, since that type of hyperglycemia can damage their kidneys, retinas and other organs. On the other hand, however, they need to avoid dangerously low blood sugar episodes.

Technology Reduces Low Blood Sugar Episodes:

One way to reduce hypoglycemic episodes is with a continuous blood glucose monitor that sounds an alarm when blood sugar goes too high or drops too low. Some people with type 1 diabetes are not sensitive to the symptoms that signal the first stages of hypoglycemia. Such hypoglycemic unawareness can land people in trouble.

Researchers randomly assigned 149 individuals with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemic unawareness to use traditional finger-stick blood sugar monitoring or to wear the continuous blood glucose monitor (Heinemann et al, The Lancet, online Feb. 18, 2018). Those wearing the machine had an average of 3.5 low blood sugar episodes a month, down from about 11 at baseline. People in the control group did not have a decrease in such episodes.

Disadvantages of Continuous Glucose Monitors:

The technology does have a few downsides. Wearing the sensor all the time may be inconvenient; the participants in this study wore it 85 percent of the time, including overnight. (That might explain how it apparently helped reduce low blood sugar episodes during sleep.)

In addition, this technology could also be costly. Insurance companies differ in how much they are willing to pay for the monitor.

In the same journal, an editorial discusses how continuous glucose monitoring is transforming the treatment of type 1 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes who must use injected insulin for blood sugar control may also benefit from this new technology.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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