There was a time when Tyeisha Smith didn’t know anything about diabetes. Then came the time when she thought it was going to kill her. Today, she is living proof that with proper care and education, people with diabetes can regain control of their health.
In this episode, Smith and Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, an endocrinologist and corporate vice president of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, join San Diego Health host Susan Taylor to discuss advancements in diabetes treatment.
“These devices have definitely given me the freedom to just live my life,” said Smith, a mother of five who has been dealing with type 1 diabetes for nearly two decades.
Smith is among the 30 million people in the United States who have diabetes, a chronic disease in which the body’s blood sugar levels are abnormally high. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either doesn't produce enough insulin, or it resists insulin. Insulin is necessary for the proper metabolism of digested foods. It signals the body tissues to metabolize or burn glucose – a type of sugar that comes from the food that we eat and that the body uses for energy.
Before her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, Smith experienced the classic symptoms of diabetes – frequent urination, excessive thirst and fatigue, but she wasn't familiar with her illness.
“I didn’t know anything about diabetes. I didn’t know anybody who had diabetes at the time,” Smith said.
Dr. Tsimikas said diabetes can take years to develop. “It can occur so slowly that people don’t realize that it is occurring,” she said. This is why it is important for people be aware of the risk factors, including family history of diabetes, she added.
“If you’ve had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, if you’re overweight, these are risk factors,” added Dr. Tsimikas. “If you score above a certain (blood sugar level) score, you should follow up with your physician and ask if you might actually have the condition or be at risk.”
Smith’s condition got so bad she feared she might not live another day. “At night, I felt like I was dying. My body literally felt like it was shutting down,” she said. “And every night I would kiss my kids good night and tell them that I loved them because I didn't think that I was going be able to see them the next day,” she said, holding back tears.
Smith regained her health and outlook on life with help from the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, a multi-service program that provides diabetes education and support, and conducts clinical trials.
Smith learned to use new devices to continuously monitor her glucose levels and deliver insulin.
“These devices have definitely given me freedom to just live my life,” Smith said. “I went from not being able to leave the house for more than an hour to where now I can go out. I can be active with my children. We go to amusement parks. I work a job without feeling down and depressed. It’s changed my life.”
Dr. Tsimikas said new technologies have made it easier to manage glucose levels by making the experience less painful and more convenient. Glucose levels determine how much insulin or other medication is needed, she said.
“The usual routine is you have to use a small needle that sticks your finger. We ask patients to check two, three, four times and if you have type 1 diabetes, eight to nine times a day,” Dr. Tsimikas said. New technology now allows type 1 patients like Smith to prick their fingers only twice a day.
Smith wears a continuous glucose monitoring system that provides readings throughout the day. The Dexcom G5 model she wears on her body transmits her data to another device, and also to her smartphone, for her to read.
“An alarm tells me if it’s too high, if it’s too low, if I’m in the danger zone,” Dr. Tsimikas said.
The new Dexcom G6 model does not require any finger pricking, Dr. Tsimikas said. The FreeStyle Libre is another continuous glucose monitoring device that does not require any fingerstick calibrations as well, she said.
Smith also wears a disposable patch that acts as a continuous insulin delivery system. The Omnipod model that she uses comes with a device that allows her to adjust doses when she eats.
“Diabetes is a very hard disease to control, but it’s not impossible and you don’t have to do it alone,” Smith said. “Scripps is here. They have the resources and the technology and if they did it for me, they can do it for you.”