Diabetes is a disease identified by high levels of glucose in the blood.
Blood sugar levels are controlled by insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, or the body becomes resistant to insulin, or both.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’ve had diabetes for a long time, it’s important to stay informed and be proactive with your health care.
Following through with the latest research-based recommendations can greatly improve your quality of life.
Ready to take control of your own health?
Let’s talk briefly about what diabetes is and then walk through some essential diabetes self-management tips.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the amount of glucose (also called sugar) in your blood is higher than normal. But how does that happen?
The problem relates to your pancreas, an organ behind your stomach. Your pancreas normally releases insulin to help the glucose from food get into your cells.
Sometimes your pancreas doesn’t make enough (or any) insulin or doesn’t use insulin well.
When this happens, glucose stays in your blood, rather than passing into your cells for energy.
Glucose is important because all of our cells require to maintain essential functions to maintain life.
Types of Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes, making up 95% of all cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Let’s take a look at the differences.
- Type 1 Diabetes – The body is unable to produce insulin. This type is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to live.
- Type 2 Diabetes – The body does not make or use insulin well. You can develop type 2 diabetes at any age but it occurs most often in older adults. People with type 2 diabetes may still have insulin in their bodies, but not enough for proper blood sugar management.
- Gestational diabetes – This develops in some women when they’re pregnant. Most of the time, it goes away after the baby is born.
Long-Term Diabetes Complications
Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can lead to a number of health problems affecting your eyes, kidneys, nerves, skin, heart, and blood vessels. The Cleveland Clinic cautions that without treatment and/or lifestyle changes, diabetics could be at risk for problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, or neuropathy (nerve damage).
Fortunately, in many cases, you can control your diabetes with lifestyle changes. Let’s focus on that next.
Diabetes Self-Management Tips
Although there is no cure for diabetes, there are things you can do to help with symptoms and keep it from getting worse. Check out these diabetes self-management tips to get you started.
Tip #1 – Eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods
Aim to eat mostly fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat, poultry, fish or meat alternatives. Developing a plan with a registered dietitian knowledgeable about diabetes-specific nutrition is a good idea, especially if you’re just starting out.
You might also consider the Diabetes Plate Method, which is a visual way to make sure each meal is diabetic-friendly. Here’s how it works:
- Half your plate should have non-starchy vegetables
- One-quarter of your plate should have whole grain or starchy foods
- One-quarter of your plate should have with lean proteins
Depending on your meal plan and calorie needs, you can include fruit and low-fat dairy on the side.
Tip #2 – Follow a consistent meal plan and schedule
Some people with diabetes need to eat at about the same time each day, while others can be more flexible with the timing.
A lot depends on whether you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, how well it’s controlled if you’re on medication, and if you take insulin.
Depending on your diabetes medication or type of insulin, you may need to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day.
It’s critical to understand your specific needs by talking to your healthcare professional. Then, be careful to follow their instructions.
Tip #3 – Develop an exercise routine
Physical activity is an important part of managing your blood glucose level. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity that increases the heart rate five days per week.
Exercise and weight loss have been shown to decrease certain risk factors associated with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
In addition, over time, physical activity can allow for improved blood flow and decreased risk for stroke and other associated heart diseases.
However, before you start, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you’re healthy enough for physical activity. They can also decide the best time of day for you to exercise. If you take insulin, you need to balance your activity with your insulin doses and meals so you don’t get low blood glucose.
Tip #4 – Check your blood sugar as directed
If you need to test your blood sugar, be sure to follow the instructions from your healthcare provider regarding frequency and time of day. This information may identify blood sugar patterns, which can help your healthcare team adjust your treatment.
Always check your blood sugar if you have high blood sugar symptoms (thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision). You should do the same for low blood sugar symptoms (lightheadedness, dizzy, confusion, sweating, shaking, fast or pounding heartbeat). Remember to immediately take a simple carbohydrate like fruit juice or glucose tablets.
Tip #5 – Ask for the right tests and checkups
A critical part of managing diabetes is getting routine tests and checkups that can spot problems early so you can avoid potential complications. Strive to be an active participant in your diabetes management plan, keeping track of results and asking questions to make sure diabetes complications aren’t developing.
- A1C test – This blood test measures your average blood sugar levels over the previous two or three months, which indicates how well your blood sugar is being controlled.
- Blood pressure checks – Diabetes can cause high blood pressure, which increases stroke and heart attack risk. Have your blood pressure checked every time you see your primary care doctor.
- Cholesterol test – Diabetes also increases your risk of heart disease, so be sure to have a blood test to check your cholesterol annually (more frequently if it’s already high).
- Foot exam – Get a complete foot exam at every office visit to test your reflexes and check your feet for calluses, infections, sores, and loss of feeling.
- Eye exam – Get a yearly eye exam from an ophthalmologist for early signs of glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.
- Kidney test – High blood glucose can damage the blood vessels in your kidneys over time. You should get tested every year for kidney disease if you have type 2 diabetes have had type 1 diabetes for more than five years.
- Dental exam – See your dentist for a regular cleaning every six months and keep up with self-care like flossing and brushing daily.
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