September 1, 2008 Doctors provide Internet-enabled cell phones to diabetic patients in order to improve their health. Patients enter their blood sugar levels, food intake, physical activity information and more into the phone, which is programmed to provide encouraging messages and remind them to take new readings. Doctors can review the online database that holds this information. Bluetooth technology transmits signals wirelessly from a blood sugar monitor to the phone.
People with diabetes struggle to control their blood sugar and other complications, and sometimes need help managing their illness. Now, their cell phone can help keep them healthy.
We can't seem to live without them -- but Lori Fales' cell phone is a real lifesaver. It helps control her type II diabetes.
"It's impacted my life in a very positive way," says Fales.
Fales is part of a new clinical trial that turns almost any cell phone into an interactive diabetes monitoring device.
"It became clear to us that the cell phone would be a great tool to allow people to put in their blood glucose measures that they do on a daily basis," says Charlene Quinn, R.N., Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Using a cell phone with access to the Web site, patients enter blood sugar levels, food intake, physical activity levels and medications, and can read education updates. The program then gives real-time feedback, like praise for normal readings, and recommends how to improve high or low readings.
"It may say drink water and take a walk, and I need to listen to that more," Fales says.
Online access lets physicians and endocrinologists check-up on patients anytime. Earlier studies showed patients lowered blood sugar levels by 2 percent in three months. "What we see using this cell phone technology, it's the ability to look at data that the patient can collect on their own and act upon it right away," Dr. Quinn says. As simply as sending a text message, the technology is helping Fales get her disease under control.
"I feel like for the first time in 20 years, my diabetes is managed," Fales says.
It's a virtual coach keeping diabetes in check. The study is ongoing in Maryland, and patients are required to stay in the study for one year.
WHY MUST DIABETICS MONITOR BLOOD SUGAR? Simple sugars are absorbed so quickly that they trigger a rise in blood sugar levels: this is called hyperglycemia. The pancreas produces a surge of insulin in response to remove the excess glucose from the bloodstream, but this sudden influx can't be turned on and off like faucet. Soon there is too much insulin, causing a low blood sugar level. This is called hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar levels cause the body's adrenal glands to produce extra glucose from proteins, starches and other fuel sources in the body to bring blood sugar levels back to normal.
ABOUT TYPE I DIABETES: This is known as an autoimmune disease, because the body destroys its own cells: those that produce insulin. When all those cells have been destroyed, the symptoms of type I diabetes appear. These include unexplained weight loss; vision problems; more frequent urination; and feeling very hungry, thirsty or tired. Among other long-term complications, type I diabetes means there is an increased risk of kidney failure, nerve damage, heart disease and blindness.
ABOUT TYPE II DIABETES: Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In this form of the disease, either the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body ignore insulin. This can stop glucose from moving out of the bloodstream and into cells. Cells need the energy that glucose provides, and too much sugar in the blood can cause damage to the eyes, nerves, kidneys, or heart. These complications are very similar to the threats from type I diabetes, though type II can sometimes be treated with medications and diet instead of insulin (obtained through injections or in an inhaled form).
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.