lmost three million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2020 this number is estimated to reach 4.2 million, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. While there is no cure to date, diabetes is a condition that can be managed.

Technology to benefit those with Type 1

More than 300,000 Canadians have Type 1 diabetes. “Although there is no national data available, the number of patients benefiting from insulin pump technology is far below expectations,” says Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, an Endocrinologist and Associate Professor at l’Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal.

“There are many reasons for this, from lack of awareness of pump technology to misplaced fears and misconceptions. Cost also represents a significant barrier. However, the vast majority of patients who switch from multiple daily injections to an insulin pump will stay with this option and not switch back.”

Some patients couple pump technology with continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). The combination — which delivers insulin throughout the day and measures real-time glucose levels — is a blessing to many.

Smart, personalized care adapts to individuals

“The main advantage of the pump is its flexibility,” explains Dr. Rabasa-Lhoret. “A patient can fine tune the amount of insulin every half hour, if need be. You can’t do that with injections.”

Through a catheter placed under the skin, an insulin pump administers insulin doses 24-hours a day. In conjunction with CGM, risks associated with low blood sugar can be reduced.

As a safety measure, some pumps can automatically stop the flow of insulin should blood glucose drop below a pre-set level — even when the wearer is asleep. The insulin pump allows those with diabetes to match their insulin intake to their lifestyle — not the other way around.

CGM data provides personalized insights for better care

“The pump and CGM are good partners,” says Dr. Rabasa-Lhoret. “Repeated glucose values are recorded at five-minute intervals, providing a more complete picture of what’s happening with a patient. You get a tremendous amount of information.”

That bounty of information is helpful also to health care providers, like Christine Richardson, a certified diabetes educator at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. “Data gathered via pump and CGM can be uploaded to a website,” she says. “Together, clients and I can see the information and advice can be provided based on this data over the phone.”

The results can be life-changing. “It’s a more normal way to live,” Richardson explains. “You don’t have to plan for things hours ahead of time. You can be in the moment and adjust how much insulin is given through the pump according to your day.”

Flexible treatment suits patients’ lives

Dessi Zaharieva, a 27-year-old PhD candidate at York University, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 7. At 13, she switched to the insulin pump. “Life isn’t always structured,” she says. “You may end up going out to eat or playing sports with friends when you hadn’t necessarily planned for it. The insulin pump allows for fine tuning in ways injections don’t.”

Zaharieva loves sports, from taekwondo to snowboarding. She doesn’t allow diabetes to prevent her from doing what she loves. The irony is that she didn’t want to wear an insulin pump at first.

“I told my parents, ‘I feel like a walking hospital,’” she recalls. “But, once I got over the fear and worry of having something connected to me 24/7, I made the switch. And I couldn’t be happier.”