Medical detection dogs can smell a 'hypo'

Big concern for those with type 1 diabetes
  • Deborah Condon

One of the biggest fears for people living with type 1 diabetes is that they will experience a ‘hypo', however medical detection dogs can help to prevent this, Diabetes Ireland has said.

Hypoglycaemia, better known as a hypo, can occur when there is too little sugar (glucose) in the blood stream to support the body's energy needs. It occurs due to a lack of balance between medications and glucose supplies.

Some 20,000 people are living with type 1 diabetes in Ireland, however every hypo can look and feel different, Symptoms can include drunk-like disorientation, dizziness, confusion, crankiness and out-of-character behaviour.

Hypos can occur at any time of the day or night and repeated hypos can lead to hypo unawareness, which means that those affected are not aware that their blood sugar levels are critically low. This can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and in exceptional circumstances, death.

However, speaking at a recent Diabetes Ireland conference aimed at healthcare professionals, UK-based Claire Pesterfield, shared her experience of how much she has benefitted from having a medical alert assistance dog, called Magic.

Ms Pesterfield, who has type 1 diabetes and works for the UK-based charity, Medical Detection Dogs (MDD), pointed out that dogs have an amazing sense of smell, ‘which we already use in order to fly safely, detect drugs and to screen for explosives'.

"MDD trains dogs to detect disease by using this amazing sense and provides medical alert assistance dogs for people with type 1 diabetes, with the aim of alerting their human partner to an impending health crisis and preventing severe episodes from happening time and time again. They literally can save lives with a simple sniff," she explained.

She told the conference that Magic has saved her life ‘time and again'.

"Before I had Magic, I'd lost my confidence in going out as the thought of having a hypoglycaemic episode in public and being a burden to people made me anxious and it was easier to stay at home," she said.

According to Sinead Powell of Diabetes Ireland, research undertaken by the University of Bristol in the UK found that medical detection dogs were able to identify 83% of over 4,000 episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar).

"This minimised the risk of harmful health complications, but more importantly, improved quality of life. These dogs can be particularly effective in monitoring people who might have unexpectedly low glucose levels at night, or for young people who are less able to keep track of their blood sugar with a conventional device," Ms Powell explained.

Ms Pesterfield and Ms Powell spoke at the DICE conference in Croke Park in Dublin.


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