Six Weeks: More Thoughts on Control IQ

This is not a “How-To” for Control IQ. I haven’t completely figured it out and for sure I can’t provide much guidance for other people using the system. I think that each of us will have to find a way to succeed (or fail?) with this algorithm and what works for me might not work for you. In fact my road to success probably won’t work for you. Actually at the moment it is not completely working for me. But it is getting better.

I finished my February 13 blogpost with this comment: “Control IQ is a step forward for me. I don’t love it yet. But I think I will.”

A month later I would say something similar. I don’t love Control IQ and occasionally wonder if I should have stayed with Basal IQ. But I am still committed to figuring this out. Even on my worst days I am not tempted to turn off Control IQ because the benefits of 24-hour protection from lows and better-than-before overnights are addicting.

Here are some things that I have learned in the last couple of weeks. Some people may disagree with my analysis of how the algorithm works and I look forward to feedback. For sure I am not quoting the Control IQ User Manual.

*** Use social media and Facebook to learn what is working for other Tandem Control IQ users. Don’t become paralyzed or discouraged when you seen flatline graphs and average BG levels of 100 from other Control IQ-ers. I don’t seem to be able to average BG’s in the 90’s or low 100’s because my insulin keeps suspending with resulting highs later on. But I am willing to learn from others who are succeeding and even from those who are struggling.

*** Consider turning to “professionals” to help to dial in settings. (Every blogger has to give the disclaimer that you shouldn’t do anything without talking to your doctor.) I am such a self-manager of my diabetes that it would never dawn on me to make a special endo or CDE appointment to talk about Control IQ. But I will be very open to suggestions from my doctor when I see her in May. Frankly right now I don’t think that many medical professionals have enough experience with Control IQ to adequately analyze our settings but I know that they will be learning in the next months just as we are learning. If I wanted to consult with someone experienced with hybrid-closed loop systems such as Looping, OpenAPS, Control IQ, and the 670G, I would probably contact Integrated Diabetes Services.

 *** Figure out your goals but don’t be afraid to tweak them as you move farther into this semi-automated insulin delivery system. Consider changing your target range so that you “succeed” within the parameters of Control IQ. Prior to Control IQ, I used a target range of 70-150 and stayed in that range a good percentage of the time. Every week that I used Control IQ I saw my statistics for that range get worse. For me that was discouraging not motivating. My endocrinologist has always encouraged me to use 70-180 and I have switched to that target for a while to boost my mental health. Interestingly my average BG between the two range choices is not different because I am doing the same things to have acceptable BG numbers. But I feel happier seeing a higher time in range in Dexcom Clarity reports. BTW I still use 150 as the high alert on the pump.

*** I think that one characteristic of “ideal” Control IQ settings is the avoidance of long suspensions of insulin. When I say “long”, I mean one hour or more.  Unfortunately I see such suspensions almost every day. Whenever I go 1-2 hours without insulin, I always go high because I just can’t be without insulin that long. The problem is that these suspensions don’t happen at the same time or in the same circumstances each day. My solution has been to learn strategies to trick Control IQ into giving me more insulin during and after these suspensions. I first tried manual boluses but that often just prompted Control IQ to suspend insulin again. So thanks to a Facebook friend, I learned about entering “fake carbs” so that Control IQ thinks that the bolus will be matched by carbs. With fake carbs, Control IQ doesn’t automatically suspend or reduce insulin as it might with a manual bolus because it expects carbs to raise your BG level. The downside of this is that your average daily carbs statistic becomes meaningless.

*** Don’t eat. Okay, that is an exaggeration…. But meal bolusing is different for me under Control IQ than previously with Basal IQ or regular pumping. In general I have to analyze what Control IQ has been doing for the last hour or two to decide how much to bolus, how far ahead to pre-bolus, and whether I need to “trick” Control IQ by adding fake carbs to the real carbs. Once again if the meal bolus is preceded by a long insulin suspension, I need the bolus to be larger than if it was preceded by my normal basal rates. I have to be careful with pre-bolusing because Control IQ will likely suspend insulin if it sees my BG dropping too low before eating. Fortunately unlike Basal IQ, Control IQ does not suspend extended boluses and that is a tool I am sometimes using to smooth the action of mealtime insulin. 

*** Simplify your pump settings as you work to figure out optimal Control IQ settings. I initially started Control IQ with my “Normal” settings and the results were not great. Then I created a new profile titled “Aggressive” and it was indeed too aggressive. I didn’t have much insight into what settings were working and which weren’t. So I created a new profile titled “One Rate.” Same basal rate, correction factor, and carb ratio for 24 hours a day. It is very similar to my pre-Control IQ settings although the carb ratio is slightly more aggressive. I have since added one more time period to that profile so technically it should now be “Two Rates.” IMO it is a good idea to use new profiles as you experiment with settings. Eventually I’ll delete most of the extra profiles.

*** Use your experience to help others in the diabetes community. It takes a village to figure out Control IQ and everything related to diabetes.

*** Sell your stock in companies that manufacture glucose tabs. These automated insulin systems are really good at reducing lows. At the same time continue to always have fast-acting carbs available. Control IQ is good, but it’s not a cure.

Summary:  My main goal with Control IQ is to have reasonably good numbers with less effort. My average blood sugar has risen with Control IQ and I expected that. One reason is fewer lows. I rarely see the 70’s and almost never the 60’s or below. The other reason is that I spend a lot of time between 100 and 125 and not much time in the 80’s. I am OK with that. I continue to use Sleep Mode 24/7 with a target range of 110-120. Less effort has not completely materialized and I am still micromanaging. But increasingly I am having longer periods of time when I don’t glance at my pump and just trust the algorithm to do the work. As long as I compensate for long insulin suspensions, that strategy is starting to show some success.

So maybe it is getting easier.

Living in the Orange:  When Diabetes is Tough

Diabetes is hard these days. I am usually a good problem solver and lately my usual fixes aren’t working. I am seeing patterns that differ from my normal ones. I am not sick. I am not on new medications. I am long past menopause and don’t think I’m dealing with raging or sagging hormones. Other things are sagging but that is a different story for a different day and a different audience.

I’m seeing large spikes after appropriately-bolused moderate-carb meals. My post-breakfast walks are not ameliorating morning blood glucose rises. I am giving ineffectual correction boluses all day long. My numbers climb on 6- to 10-mile hikes. The new pump profile “More” and its bucketfuls of insulin has not made a noticeable improvement.

I haven’t gained weight in recent months, but I do weigh almost 10 pounds more than 4 years ago. My doctors like that but my clothes don’t. My daily average steps are less than in previous years but arthritis and a recent bout with plantar fasciitis have dictated that I pay attention to sore joints. Abby the Black Lab will be 12 years old on Thursday and our walks are shorter than last year. And the year before. Some days we walk and I drop her off at home so I can go farther.

An old dog and an old lady.

But definitely some physical changes that might warrant more insulin.

I am frustrated with my diabetes technology.

Despite being a huge fan of my Dexcom G5, I go crazy with alarms claiming my BG is 48 and it is 98. With alarms that scream 189 when my meter says 140. With alerts that declare 240 and it is…240. And alarms that alert for BG’s of 52 and although I feel fine, my meter says 52. I accept, but hate the Medicare requirement that I use only my Dexcom receiver and not my iPhone, Apple Watch, and Tandem pump.

My pump was replaced a month ago due to a failing battery. Yes, I am still not on board with a rechargeable pump and yearn for the security of carrying extra pump batteries in my meter case. The new pump has an unresponsive T-button which means that every time I turn on or off my pump screen, I have to push the button once. Twice. Sometimes four or five times. The Quick Bolus feature rarely works because I get error messages of too many button presses or it just times out when the final push to deliver insulin doesn’t work. There is a possibility that I will be getting a replacement pump but unfortunately Tandem has changed the T-button to a “two-pronged design” and a new pump might not solve the problem. Facebook tells me that I am not alone in the woes of a stubborn, mushy, unresponsive T-button. I don’t know why Tandem changed the button design but I do know that whatever problem they solved created another. The T-button is the gateway to every interaction with my pump. When the T-button is problematic, my pump experience is problematic. 4 weeks of practice with the new button design has only marginally improved my success rate.

Five years ago when I was cruising in the “Doing Okay” zone of diabetes, I wrote a blogpost titled “It’s Not as Hard.” I concluded that “I think the reason I’m feeling good these days is that my hard work seems to be having good results.” By substituting a few words, I can describe my mindset these days. “I think the reason I’m feeling bad these days is that my hard work seems to be having bad results.”

As anyone with diabetes knows, it is hard to keep making good decisions when the numbers don’t reward the work. If a 12-carb cup of applesauce spikes me to 250, I might as well have Nutter Butters or Oreos. I have definitely fallen into this pattern and thus am not an innocent victim in my diabetes distress.

I know that I need a total reset in my diabetes life and things that have worked in the past include severe Dr. Bernstein-like carb restriction, the Whole 30 diet, and the untethered regimen. To be determined….

Part 2 of the Story

I wrote the earlier section of this blogpost on Friday morning and decided that since I do not entirely trust my pump and insulin absorption that I would choose the untethered regimen option. This plan entails taking a certain percentage of basal insulin by injection in combination with pump therapy. As of Friday evening I am taking 3 units of Lantus at both 7:00pm and 7:00am with the remaining 50% of basal coming from my pump. My blogpost “Building a Foundation with Lantus” gives a good description of the untethered regimen and provides links to other blogposts and articles on the subject.

How is it working? Amazingly well and on Saturday morning, I immediately began seeing some familiar flat lines between meals. The unexpected and unjustified spikes are gone. No doubt I am being careful about food choices but that didn’t make a significant difference in recent weeks. Once again I marvel at how much easier my diabetes is when I combine injections and pump therapy. Too bad it is so much more work.

I think a stable base from two daily Lantus injections protects me from absorption issues with my pump. I am taking slightly more basal than previously and maybe that’s the only difference. I am at a stage in life that I might consider going back to MDI (Tresiba-ready?) although I’m not psyched to abandon the convenience of bolusing with a pump. Ironically Basic Medicare with a Supplement plan makes pumping a much cheaper alternative than injections.

For the moment the arrow on my dia-bete-meter has moved from “Kind of Crappy” orange to a familiar place between “Okay-ish” yellow and “As Good As It Gets” light green. This zone isn’t perfection but it is an area where hard work and good decisions usually reward me with reasonable BG numbers. That’s all I can ask for and I am doing better today than a week ago and a month ago.

One small change in insulin delivery. One big improvement in BG numbers and emotional health.