Until I hit the age of 30, I pretty much thought I was invincible when it came to my health. I ran 5 miles three times a week, lifted weights often and felt great. But at the age of 35 during a routine physical, I discovered I had some blood pressure issues and another heart-related issue that forced me to go on beta blockers.
As I aged, I found myself dealing with other physical issues including the discovery that I became a type 2 diabetic in my early 50’s and dealt with a triple bypass at the age of 62. I realize that as you age health issues arise but in my case serious health issues have become a way of life for me.
Like most people facing health related problems that are concerned at either keeping them in check or even better, working to eliminate them when possible, I have become much more proactive in both treating these health problems as well as monitoring them in real time when possible.
This idea of real-time health monitoring has become possible because of some great new technology products that have come out in the last 5 years. Having these tools to monitor my health has given me a much better grasp of what is going on within my body, allowed better control and made my life much better.
The most important monitoring tool I have is the Dexcom Continues Glucose Monitoring (CGM) system. Using a subcutaneous sensor and transmitter, it sends data to the Dexcom app on my iPhone and tells me at all times what my blood sugar readings are. And since I have an Apple Watch, I also can read these blood sugar readings on the watch and know what my blood sugar numbers are at a glance. I do have to do two pin pricks a day to calibrate the sensor readings but that is much better then 5-6 pin pricks I used to do daily to keep on top of my blood sugar numbers. It has also allowed me to see what foods impact my blood sugars and as a result it helps me eat much better and keep my A1C’s under 7 all of the time. It is an expensive system but most insurances cover at least 50% of the cost.
Since I also have had heart issues I also use a wireless blood pressure system from Withings and check my BP daily. But my newest tool comes from Alive Kor and its Kardia mobile system that allows me to do an EKG on demand as well.
Every time I go to the doctor now they take an EKG to determine if there are any irregularities in my heart rhythms. This is an important metric they use to determine how the heart is working and catches early signs of trouble.
AliveCor’s $99 mobile EKG system lets me check these hear rhythms anytime I need to and gives me an instant reading that is pretty accurate. The device has been approved by the FDA and works well. I bring my reports to my Dr. when I see them every six months to show them what has been happening between visits. It also has a unique feature that allows me to have my readings remotely checked by a doctor or a lab technician who can interpret the data if the EKG finds any irregularities.
If I do an EKG and it detects irregularities of any kind, I can pay $9.99 for a technician to give feedback on the EKG and $19.95 for a certified MD to give a more professional opinion. Thankfully so far, my readings have shown no irregularities but should I have any in the future, it is nice to know that I can get solid feedback as part of an early warning system, alert my doctors and have this investigated by them to determine if there is a real problem.
As a result of my heart issues I have also had sleep apnea. I use a CPAP system to deal with this. But I have had some other sleep related issues I wanted to understand, things like how much REM sleep I get, what my heart rate is during the night and if I have any sleeping patterns that do not allow me to get enough rest. To check this I recently started testing a new sleep monitoring system that gives me the ability to get a more precise reading about my sleeping habits.
The device is made by EarlySense and uses an app called Live on a smartphone to monitor sleep patterns. (You can read our full review here) They have a disk that is put under my mattress that takes the major sleep-related readings wirelessly through special sensors during the night. Using Bluetooth, it sends these measurements to the app on my iPhone. In the morning I can look at the report of my sleeping patterns from the night before and see what my average heart rate, respiration rate, and my stress level was while I slept. It includes a graph of each hour’s sleeping pattern and tells me how many hours I slept, how long it took me to fall asleep, how many times I got up during the night and how many minutes or hours I was in REM sleep and deep sleep. I found out that my stress level during the night was high and am talking to my sleep doctor about this now.
As you read this you might be saying “this guy is falling apart.” Or that I have become too anal when it comes to monitoring my health. But after my triple bypass, my attitude towards taking care of myself and monitoring my health has become a priority. I also know the importance of early signs in keeping ahead of health problems and I see my use of these technologies as an important part of my health program.
Before I used these tests, I cleared them with my doctors although only the Dexcom requires a doctor’s prescription. I just wanted them to know about these tools and now bring the results with me when I see my various doctors whose role is to care for my health.
Technology designed for self-monitoring of health conditions is new but I believe it will become an important part of our health regimen as we age and people will want to use them to try and stay ahead of health issues.