If you have diabetes, glucose monitoring is a regular piece of your daily healthcare regimen. This often involves routine finger sticks (or glucose monitors that require finger stick calibration) which are, understandably, not always an enjoyable endeavor. Not adhering to a finger stick schedule can come at a price, however: If glucose levels aren't checked as frequently as your doctor recommends, it can compromise your health. Fortunately, science has been busy developing new technology that boosts patient compliance and nearly eliminates finger sticks; and good news: It's available now.
Diabetes and finger sticks
Maria Tulpan, M.D., an endocrinologist in New York City affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital, and Certified Diabetes Educator Cher Pastore spoke with us about diabetes and how it impacts the approximately 30 million people living with it. Dr. Tulpan says that the treatment plan for those diagnosed with diabetes can involve many facets of healthcare, from lifestyle changes such as daily exercise and diet changes to certain medications, some of which need to be administered via injection. Another vital component of diabetic healthcare is the daily finger sticks — and for some, multiple sticks a day are required.
Finger stick checks are important, Dr. Tulpan says, because there can be a lot of variation in glucose levels and patients need that information to further customize daily treatment. For example, some foods can make blood sugar go up, while medications can make sugar go too low if there isn't adequate food intake. She notes, "The patient has to be aware of that in order to prevent complications like low sugar, or long-term complications of high sugar." However, it can become a burden to constantly check blood glucose because it's annoying and painful; this, in turn, can cut down on compliance with a treatment plan.
While there are a variety of glucose monitors on the market, they don't all operate the same way. Some require test strips, finger sticks, and drops of blood. Others, called continuous glucose monitors, involve tiny sensors inserted under the skin. These continuous monitors test the patient's glucose every few minutes, but many require finger stick calibration or even regular finger sticks to ensure the device is working right.
This is where the FreeStyle Libre comes into play. This new continuous glucose monitor eliminates the need for finger stick calibration (the device comes factory calibrated) and while there are certain times where a finger stick may be necessary (for example, if the monitor flashes a "Check Blood Glucose" symbol or your symptoms don't match system readings), this device is a big step towards less pain and better compliance.
More compliance is crucial for the best outcomes, says Dr. Tulpan, and this type of glucose monitor can provide better data for both the doctor and the patient. "The patient can know every moment of their day what their sugar is and the impact of the food they eat, the exercise they are doing, and how their medication is working," she explains. "This gives a lot of information that the patient can use right then and there."
Importance of adhering to a treatment plan
Boosting a patient's compliance has many benefits because not adhering to a treatment plan can have dangerous repercussions, says Pastore. Long-term consequences of being either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic can be severe, with problems ranging from heart disease and stroke to foot ulcers and uncontrolled infections. "It's a real problem if we don't control and manage blood sugar," she says.
While this new technology won't cure diabetes, it's heartening to know that advances are being made in the technology patients use, and that these advancements can lead to better compliance and overall better health.
See more helpful articles:
The 9 Tests You Must Get if You Have Type 2 Diabetes
The 10 Worst Mistakes You Make When Checking Your Sugar
How I Adjusted to Dietary Changes with Diabetes