Flash: My diabetes crystal ball

In the first of a series of blogs to mark Diabetes Awareness Month, a patient explains how access to a flash glucose monitor has been life-changing in managing her condition. Thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan, this innovative technology is now available to 30,000 patients on the NHS.

I’m 24 and had Type 1 diabetes for 17 years since been diagnosed in 2002 at the age of seven.

My mum noticed I was drinking an excessive amount of water, and I absolutely hated water, so something wasn’t right. She took me to the GP who quickly spotted the classic signs of Type 1 diabetes and sent us to the nearest hospital in Essex.

Later that day I was discharged and my life with Type 1 diabetes began.

After my diagnosis I used basic injections and blood testing kits to manage my condition. I was testing my blood sugar levels around eight to 10 times a day via a painful finger-prick test. This included before each meal, two hours after driving to and from anywhere, before bed, if I felt unwell and before I exercised or had a snack.

However, in 2016 I came across a flash glucose monitor for the first time while volunteering at a children’s camp with Diabetes UK. The innovative device, which is the size of a £2 coin and worn on the arm, means people with Type 1 do not have to carry out multiple finger-prick checks to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Convinced by other people living with Type 1 diabetes, I ordered a starter kit as soon as I got home -as at the time the monitors were not available on prescription. I was blown away by the convenience of just swiping the sensor with my smart phone when I wanted to know what my blood sugar levels were.

This tiny device had a huge impact on living with Type 1 diabetes and now I can’t imagine life without it.

The clinical improvement in my diabetes management began the second I could see what was going on with my blood sugars at all times. The clear visuals on the app make it easier to understand my blood sugar levels and even easier to explain to somebody without diabetes.

Prior to having my monitor, I relied on keeping a log book of my blood sugar levels to highlight issues and I’d have to interpret my own data to find trends. I’d also have to wait for my appointment every six to 12 months to find out my HBA1C level.

With my flash glucose monitor, I have instant access to a log book that I haven’t had to write out, can look at daily trends and see a predicted HBA1C level at the touch of a button.

The amount of information at my fingertips and how easy it is to access the information has been life-changing. It has also given my consultant a better picture of my control.

My favourite feature of the flash glucose monitor is the prediction arrows available alongside your levels. They show whether you are stable, rising quickly, rising slowly, dropping slowly or dropping quickly. This can make a huge difference to insulin doses and help to catch a low or high blood sugar level. Because of this feature I’m making more informed decisions when it comes to my diabetes management and I’m understanding my symptoms better.

I’ve never been able to see into the future, but the prediction arrows are the closest thing I’ve had to having a diabetes crystal ball.

Alongside the clinical improvements, the most important benefit for me has been the positive effect it’s had on my mental health and wellbeing as it has allowed me to offload a large amount of diabetes stress and has drastically improved the anxiety around my blood sugars and the threat of a hypo.

Thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan commitment, I am now one of 30,000 patients accessing a flash glucose monitor on the NHS.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for people with Type 1 diabetes of all ages to be able to access this life-changing technology. That is why I have been supporting the NHS Diabetes Programme team in helping them to promote the new guidance around access to this technology by sharing my personal story.

I have spoken at national conferences to raise awareness and recently attended a Parliamentary event where I spoke to MPs from across the country and even gave Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, a demo of how the technology works.

This Diabetes Awareness Month I urge all diabetes healthcare professionals to read the latest guidance on flash and anyone living with Type 1 diabetes to check if they are eligible.

Olivia Clark Young

Olivia Clark-Young is from a seaside town in Essex. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged seven.

By day, Olivia works in a post office and in her spare time is a keen baker and regularly volunteers for Diabetes UK to help others living with Type 1 diabetes – particularly children – learn about and better manage their condition.

Follow Olivia on twitter: @livvyinabox

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