I wish that I could give you an unqualified endorsement of the new Diabetes Sentry. It is the only noninvasive device currently on the market for the detection of hypoglycemia symptoms. Worn like a wristwatch, it is simple and easy to use.
It can detect the two most common symptoms of hypoglycemia, a blood sugar level that can be dangerously low and which many people with diabetes call a hypo. The common symptoms are a drop in skin temperature and an increase in perspiration. When a Diabetes Sentry detects one of these symptoms, it sounds an audible alarm.
Anyone who uses insulin and some people who use the oldest oral medication for diabetes, one of the sulfonylureas, to manage his or her diabetes is at risk of going hypo. When this happens during sleep, the consequences can be especially serious.
Diabetes Sentry Products Inc. in Wzyzata, Minnesota, holds the patent on the product, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in April 2005. Ten years ago when I wrote about this device in Diabetes Wellness News, the company thought that it had a valid FDA approval. But it didn't, and it hasn't been available for several years.
When Michael Russin, the company's vice president of sales, wrote me earlier this month that they had just started shipping the new FDA-approved device, I asked him for a unit to review. He told me that the new Diabetes Sentry has several improvements.
"It's a more efficient design," he wrote me. "If taken care of properly, it will potentially extend the life of the device. The device's motherboard has also been updated to current standards, and manufacturing is now done in the U.S."
The cost of the Diabetes Sentry is $499.95, including one set of batteries. The batteries should last from six to 12 months, and will cost about $10 to $15 each time. No additional accessories are required.
This device has always interested me greatly, especially because it is non-invasive. We have only ever had one other way to check our blood glucose levels non-invasively, the GlucoWatch G2 Biographer. Unlike the GlucoWatch, which measured blood sugar levels, the Diabetes Sentry measures the symptoms of hypoglycemia -- skin temperature and perspiration. Cygnus Inc. of Redwood City, California, sold the GlucoWatch for a few years between 2002 and 2008, but that device had so many problems that it is no longer available.
Users of earlier versions of the Diabetes Sentry, then known as the Sleep Sentry, had problems with it too. My late wife, Catherine, had type 2 diabetes, used insulin, and had frequent hypos. Although she was excited to use a Sleep Sentry, Catherine experienced false positives almost every night when the device woke us up. But when she checked her blood sugar level, she found that it wasn't low after all.
I especially wanted to review the new Diabetes Sentry, but I couldn't do it myself. While I have had type 2 diabetes for two decades, I haven't used any diabetes medication since 2007 and consequently don't get hypos. But a good friend of mine here in Boulder has type 1 diabetes and therefore uses insulin. He graciously agreed to check out the new Diabetes Sentry for me.
"So far the test run with the Sentry is not performing well," he reported initially to me. "Since I saw you Friday, I have had three false positives. Also I just had a blood sugar reading of 65 and decided to allow my levels to drop to see if I could get it to go off. I waited until my sugar level reached 40 and decided that was low enough and finally drank some apple juice. My heart rate was elevated, I was feeling light headed and irritable, but I did not break out in a sweat.
The Sentry did not go off."
In his final report to me, he was even more reluctant to recommend it: "I tried the Sentry for about five days, and it did not work for me. Last weekend, I got wrapped up into raking leaves and as a result had three sugar lows ranging from 40 to 50, and the device did not go off. In addition, I had a couple more over the week with the same result. I had four false positives that occurred as well and checked my levels and they were fine -- anywhere between 80 to 115. I rarely sweat when I encounter a sugar low, so I think the Sentry is best suited for those that do sweat."
If you do sweat when you go hypo, the Diabetes Sentry may well be valuable for you. Since you can't be sure, I asked Michael Russin at Diabetes Sentry Products what the company's return policy is.
"Electronic devices are usually non-returnable," he wrote back. "However, we offer a 30-day return policy, provided the device has not been damaged, including water contact. Upon receipt of the device and subsequent inspection, we offer a full refund, including shipping charges. The reason we arrived at 30 days is that sometimes the patient becomes frustrated early on 'because it's new,' but really needs to give the device and its operation some time, even though it is not complicated to operate.
"Our philosophy is to educate and qualify the potential buyer before the purchase to ascertain if they are in the 'hypoglycemia unawareness' group of patients that are asymptomatic. That is the only group of diabetics that should not buy our device, unless they go through the protocol available to return themselves to becoming symptomatic.
"Diabetes Sentry works every time the symptoms appear, even though they may not be caused by hypoglycemia. It would be sad if a patient returned our product but still suffered from nocturnal low blood sugars."
So, will the Diabetes Sentry prevent you from having hypos? The only way to find out is to check it out yourself.