Taking charge of your diabetes
Although diabetes is a chronic disease that you will always have, you can successfully manage it so that you feel better and have more control of your life. Managing diabetes every day also helps prevent or delay long-term complications, which can cause serious disabilities and even death.
Diabetic complications include coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetic nephropathy, diabetic retinopathy, foot disease (such as foot sores), and other nerve problems. People who do not have diabetes can also develop many of these problems, but having diabetes increases your likelihood of developing them. Also, you are likely to have these complications at an earlier age than a person who does not have diabetes.
Diabetes also compromises your immune and circulatory systems, which can accelerate the rate at which you develop health problems. You can prevent or delay complications by keeping your immune and circulatory systems as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Research confirms that maintaining a normal blood sugar over an extended time reduces the risk for complications. Blood sugar control can best be achieved by balancing your diet, exercising, and taking medication, if necessary. Controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol is also an important part of preventing complications.
Blood glucose control
Blood glucose control is the cornerstone of diabetes treatment. Testing your blood sugar level often helps you:
- Understand how different foods and exercise affect your blood sugar level.
- See patterns in how your blood sugar levels change.
Knowing your blood sugar level can help you determine and maintain the most effective treatment for your diabetes. You can test your blood sugar level anywhere, any time by using a home blood sugar (glucose) meter. Talk with your doctor about how often to check your blood sugar. How often you need to check it depends on your diabetes treatment, how well your diabetes is controlled, and your overall health.
Strive to keep your hemoglobin A1c level less than 7%. Hemoglobin A1c level is a measure of how well your blood sugar levels have stayed within a safe range over the previous 2 to 3 months. Hemoglobin A1c is one of three types of glycohemoglobin, which is a form of hemoglobin that has blood sugar (glucose) bound to it. Normally, only a small percentage of hemoglobin in the blood (4% to 6%) has glucose bound to it. But people with diabetes (or other conditions that increase their blood glucose levels) have more glycohemoglobin than normal.
You will not have to stop eating anything that you like, even sugary foods. You just need to learn how to work them into your meal plan. A balanced diet that spreads carbohydrate throughout the day will help prevent high blood sugar levels after meals.
You should limit your fat intake and try to eat more vegetables. You should also strive to eat regularly and control your portion sizes. Changing your eating habits can be challenging, but a registered dietitian can help you develop a meal plan that includes your favorite foods.
Exercise, smoking, and other lifestyle adjustments
Regular physical exercise will help your diabetes treatment in two ways: by reducing your weight and improving the overall health of your circulatory system. Reducing your weight decreases your body's insulin resistance. Because diabetes affects blood flow, the healthier your circulatory system, the better. Find an exercise that you enjoy, and make it a daily habit.
If you smoke tobacco products, stop. Both diabetes and smoking increase your risk for developing heart disease. Many services and a variety of resources are available to help you quit, including smoking cessation classes, nicotine patches, and other forms of nicotine replacement therapy.
You do not have to stop drinking alcohol. But drinking large amounts of alcohol can make it more difficult to control your blood glucose levels. It can also be difficult to distinguish between low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia) and intoxication. If you drink, drink only one alcoholic beverage a day if you are a woman or two drinks a day if you are a man.
If you are not able to keep your blood sugar levels under control with diet and exercise, you may need to take one or more oral medications for diabetes. Medications for type 2 diabetes prevent the breakdown of carbohydrates, boost insulin production, or increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. A combination of medications may help you achieve your blood sugar control better than one medication. Take your medication regularly and on time to help maintain good blood sugar control.
Some people with type 2 diabetes need to take insulin injections temporarily if they are ill, have surgery, become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. They usually can stop taking insulin when the situation is over. As diabetes progresses, the pancreas produces less and less insulin. If your pancreas produces too little or no insulin, you will need to take insulin for the rest of your life.
If you need to take insulin:
- Know the type of insulin you take, how long it takes to start working, and how long it lasts.
- Know how to prepare and give your insulin injections.
- Test your blood sugar more often to detect high or low blood sugar levels before an emergency develops.