WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Devices that constantly monitor blood sugar levels of people with diabetes help them control their glucose better than the old-fashioned method of pricking their fingers throughout the day, researchers reported on Monday.
Tests of all three brands of continuous glucose monitoring devices showed that people with type 1 diabetes who used them consistently could keep their blood sugar levels within the desired range, the researchers found. Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic and DexCom Inc all make the devices.
Adults were far more likely to use the devices consistently and to benefit from them, the team of researchers told the European Association for the Study of Diabetes annual meeting in Rome.
Tight blood sugar control reduces the risk of long-term complications from diabetes such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease or amputation.
The researchers said 30 percent of those using the monitors got their hemoglobin a1c readings -- a measure of average blood sugar levels -- to below the desired level of 7. This compared to 7 percent of people using traditional methods, they reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The absolute drop in a1c was 0.53 -- which translates into a much lower risk of eye damage that can lead to blindness, said Dr. Aaron Kowalski of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which funded and conducted the study.
"Every 10 percent you lower your a1c is about a 40 percent reduction in the risk of diabetic retinopathy," Kowalski told reporters in a telephone briefing.
The researchers studied 322 adults and children randomly assigned to use either a continuous monitoring device or to continue to manage their diabetes as normal.
The yearlong study has been broken into two parts and the researchers were giving their six-month findings.
The adults aged 25 and older were more likely to use the monitors consistently and also had the most significantly improved control of blood sugar, the researchers found.
Teens and children aged 8 to 15 did not significantly improve their blood sugar levels, although those who reported they used the devices better did, the researchers said.
"Previously, we would stick our fingers four to six times a day," Kowalski said. The devices use a small tube inserted under the skin to make measurements every five minutes or so and alert the patient, who can adjust his or her eating or inject insulin as needed.
"These results are very important because they show that continuous glucose monitors are more than simply devices of convenience for people with diabetes -- they are tools that can substantially improve blood sugar control when used regularly," he concluded.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which helps the body convert food into energy.
The JDRF estimates that 3 million people in the United States alone have type 1 diabetes.
Doctors and manufacturers are trying to persuade more insurance companies to pay for the devices, which cost about $500 to $1,000. The disposable sensors, which must be replaced every few days, cost about $250 to $350 for a month's supply.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Cynthia Osterman