Pirates wear patches, Girl Scouts wear patches and many people with diabetes (including me) wear patches too. If you do an internet search for “diabetes patches,” you’ll get more than 200 million results.
Some of the advertisements will have buzz words like “lower your blood sugar,” “top rated,” “herbal cure,” “stabilize blood sugar,” “non-invasive,” “no finger sticks” or “natural.”
For someone managing diabetes, reading these words offers promise. So, what are these various patches, and do they work?
I’ll divide the types of patches into smaller categories and discuss the pros and cons to each.
Types of Diabetes Patches
Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems
These devices, which often are referred as a CGM, have an adhesive backing and are placed on your body to monitor blood glucose by constantly measuring glucose levels in interstitial fluid (the fluid between cells). Continuous glucose monitors have been game changers in diabetes management.
Using a CGM device can save numerous finger sticks each day for people monitoring their blood glucose levels. More importantly, since the CGM samples every few minutes, we get a perfect picture of blood sugar ups and downs — data equivalent to checking blood glucose almost 300 times per day. CGMs offer enough data to show trends in your blood sugar and how many days your blood sugar is in range (time in range) which is very helpful in making informed decisions about diabetes management.
Food and Drug Administration-approved CGM’s are a prescription-only device, and insurance reimbursement for this relatively expensive technology is usually limited to individuals on insulin therapy (often even restricted to people with Type 1 diabetes).
Current FDA-approved continuous glucose monitoring systems are:
— Dexcom is a continuous glucose monitor available in the United States for people with diabetes ages two and older. Per Dexcom recommendations, the sensor device is adhered with an adhesive backing to the abdomen for ten days and a transmitter clicks into a plastic saddle to send data to a Dexcom receiver or your phone. After ten days, you remove the device like you would a band-aid, replace the sensor patch and reuse the transmitter.
— Freestyle Libre is available in two versions: the Freestyle Libre 2 (approved for kids ages four and above) and the Freestyle Libre 14- day CGM. Both CGMs last for 14 days, which means that the Libre device will need to be replaced by peeling off the patch-like device and placing a new sensor on by peeling back the adhesive. These monitors display a glucose reading every one minute. It’s recommended to wear the Libre on the back of the upper arm.
— The Guardian Connect System patch monitor can be worn on the stomach or arm and needs to be changed every seven days. This system is recommended for people with diabetes ages 14 to 75.
Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion
Also called insulin pumps, this therapy for insulin delivery has been another game changer for people with diabetes. This technology replaces multiple insulin injections for meals over a period of one to three days (depending upon the brand) — a huge improvement in comfort, and can be set to calculate mealtime insulin doses.
The ability to introduce a constant baseline flow of insulin, called a basal rate, brings blood glucose management closer to the natural, non-diabetes state. And the technology has already moved to a level where an insulin pump and CGM communicate to administer or suspend insulin delivery based upon predicted blood glucose trends without user input. All FDA-approved insulin pumps require a site where insulin is infused subcutaneously (beneath the skin), and this infusion “set” is secured to the skin with a patch.
There are currently five approved insulin pumps manufacturers:
— Two manufacturers’ pumps — Tandem and Medtronic — connect an electronic control and insulin reservoir device to the infusion set with tubing. Both have options for communicating directly with a CGM.
— Insulet’s Omnipod combines the infusion set and insulin reservoir into a patch-secured “pod,” which eliminates tubing. The user sets parameters for basal and mealtime insulin dosing and communicates insulin dosing commands via a wireless personal diabetes manager. Each pod expires after three days. Currently Omnipod doesn’t market a unit that communicates directly with a CGM. Stay tuned as there is an updated Omnipod unit waiting on FDA approval.
— V-Go is a daily wearable insulin device for adults with Type 2 diabetes that is pre-set to deliver continuous basal insulin (20, 30 or 40 units) over a 24- hour period. This device has no batteries and does not communicate with a controller or CGM. After applying the patch, the user presses a button to insert the delivery needle. Mealtime insulin or insulin doses to correct out-of-target blood sugar levels are initiated by pressing a button on the device. The V-Go is changed every 24 hours.
— CeQur Simplicity is a three-day insulin patch that uses rapid acting insulin. It offers a discreet (thinnest on the market) patch insulin delivery system geared for people with Type 2 diabetes. This device holds 200 units of insulin that can be used to correct an above target blood sugar or used for mealtime insulin dosing. To administer insulin, you simply squeeze the button on the side of the patch. Each squeeze delivers two units of insulin.
[ READ: What Is Insulin? ]
Accessory CGM or Insulin Pump Patches
Accessory patches for a CGM or an insulin pump are adhesive overlays to help keep the CGM or insulin pump patches from peeling away from the skin. We can think of these patches like extra band-aids.
When our skin becomes wet from sweating after an exercise program, working outdoors in the heat or swimming in a pool, the adhesives that secure our devices sometimes start detaching. These patches are extra patches simply to help the device stay attached for the period needed. But many also use these adhesive patches to add fun designs or make a statement while wearing their devices.
These “smart” patches are in research now but show great promise eventually for monitoring blood glucose levels and dosing patients with insulin (to lower blood sugar levels) and glucagon (for raising blood sugar levels) through tiny needles on a patch.
If you do a Google search for herbal medicines, you’ll find all sorts of touted remedies for diabetes. You’re sure to find “herbal patches to treat or cure diabetes.”
Pay attention to some key buzz words in your search. Words like cure, natural and non-invasive are no more than hopeful words. There’s very little research on the effects of placing these patches on your skin to treat or cure diabetes. In fact, at this moment in time there’s no cure for diabetes. The research on herbal remedies is very weak, so it’s not a good idea to invest in these promise promoting products.
Advancements in diabetes management through technologies that make living with diabetes easier are most welcome. Several of these diabetes patch options can help people to follow the core diabetes management behaviors of taking medications as prescribed, checking blood sugar, problem solving, coping and reducing risk.
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