Diabetes is a chronic disease that requires daily attention to keep under control. Diabetes monitoring through various tests and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help to keep you healthy.
Receiving this diagnosis can be very stressful. There’s a lot to learn and keep track of, which can be overwhelming.
Tina Canada, RN, a diabetes management expert at OSF HealthCare, shared some of the ways people living with diabetes can manage their diagnosis and reduce the stress of daily monitoring.
People diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes can do several things to help keep their diabetes under control.
Test blood sugar daily
When your body doesn’t make enough insulin or does not respond in the right way to insulin, your blood glucose level may elevate. Continuous glucose monitoring is key to keeping your numbers where they should be. You should check your blood sugar throughout the day. The most important time to check is before eating. One test strip can often be used multiple times.
Have you had your A1C checked recently?
An A1C check is one of the most important but often one of the most skipped tests. An A1C check informs you and your provider where your glucose levels are and how well your diabetes is managed over time.
“An A1C measures your average blood glucose over the past two to three months,” Tina said.
Specifically, the A1C test measures how much sugar is in your red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout your body. The higher your A1C is, the higher your risk is for developing complications. While goals of therapy may be individualized based on a variety of factors, for a majority of people a goal A1C is 7% or less.
You should have your A1C checked by your provider every three to six months.
Exercise for diabetes
Exercise is important for managing diabetes. It can improve your blood sugar levels, help manage weight and reduce the risk of complications like heart attack and stroke.
“Any kind of physical activity helps, but something that gets the heart and blood pumping for 15 to 30 minutes each day is ideal,” Tina said.
This could be a vigorous walk, riding a bike, swimming, joining a fitness class or lifting weights – no matter your ability.
Many people with diabetes struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Exercising and eating healthy can help with losing weight for diabetes management.
Diet is crucial for people with diabetes. Eating three meals a day at regular times help you better use insulin. Be sure not to skip breakfast.
“Following a healthy, balanced meal plan that allows for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and fewer processed carbohydrates can be beneficial. Don’t plan for a restrictive diet, as these are usually not sustainable,” Tina said.
“A meal plan – not a diet – that fits your lifestyle and helps you make healthy, nutritious choices most of the time is recommended. Plan for meals and snacks so that you have healthy choices readily available.”
Once you and your provider have come up with a care plan, it’s important to stick to your daily routine of taking medications. Most people with Type 2 diabetes are started on oral medications and some people need both oral medications and insulin shots.
Potential complications of uncontrolled diabetes
“Potential complications are huge,” Tina said.
Diabetes has an effect on many different functions of the body. That means people with diabetes are at an increased risk of complications that range from mild to severe.
High blood pressure
Though not all people with diabetes have high blood pressure, it’s likely they will eventually have it. A person with diabetes and high blood pressure is four times more likely to experience a cardiovascular condition. People with diabetes need to have tighter control of their blood pressure.
Heart attack and stroke
People living with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to people without diabetes. Even if diabetes is well managed, the risk is increased.
Diabetic kidney disease
Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease. It’s important to have your kidney function tested about once a year.
Fifty percent of people with diabetes experience some form of nerve damage – also called diabetic neuropathy. High blood sugar can injure nerves throughout the body. Diabetic neuropathy most often damages nerves in the legs and feet. For some people, diabetic nerve pain can be severe and debilitating. Diabetic neuropathy cannot be reversed, but you can keep it from worsening. Good management of your blood glucose may be able to reverse nerve damage, but the process is slow.
As a result of nerve damage, people with diabetes are more likely to get wounds on their feet. When these go unchecked, they can become infected. This can lead to amputations – 85% of lower leg amputations begin with diabetic foot sores or diabetic ulcers. Wearing diabetic socks can help encourage good circulation and reduce friction on feet. Daily diabetic foot care is essential to prevent complications.
Diabetes can cause an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy, which damages the retina. Small blood vessels behind the eye leak or become blocked. This can progress to blindness. Retinopathy in diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. People with diabetes should have a retinopathy screening yearly.
Increased risk of infection
High blood sugar can reduce the number of white blood cells, which help your body fight infection. This leaves people with diabetes at an increased risk of getting more severely ill from things like the flu and COVID-19.
High blood sugar affects the skin. About one in three people with diabetes will have some sort of skin rash. Using moisturizing soaps and fragrance-free lotions can help alleviate dry skin.
Diabetes increases the risk of gum disease. Gum disease can also increase blood sugar levels, which can make other diabetes complications worse.
It’s important to stay up to date on all health checks to avoid running into severe complications.
Some of the tests you should stay on top of include:
- Diabetic eye exam: This kind of test can save your sight.
- Foot exam: Nerve damage is common in those with uncontrolled diabetes and can lead to serious complications.
- Kidney function test: Getting this test can catch kidney failure and kidney damage early.
- A1C test: A1C for diabetes should be as close to 7% or below as possible.
- Cholesterol test: High cholesterol has no symptoms, so test results can tell you what you need to watch.
Diabetes isn’t a journey you should face alone. Having a primary care provider (PCP) is essential to staying on top of your tests and monitoring. They can connect you to all the supports and resources available to you, such as digital tools or a specialty provider, if needed.
Can you reverse diabetes?
If you’re in the prediabetes stage, that diagnosis can be reversed through lifestyle and diet changes.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you cannot reverse that diagnosis. However, you can have glucose levels return to prediabetes or even non-diabetes levels.
“The primary way this can happen is by losing a significant amount of weight, making healthy food choices most of the time and increasing physical activity,” Tina said.
“Remission or reversal of diabetes is not permanent. It may last for months or years.”
Once you’re in the habit of maintaining your health checks, it can be simple to live with diabetes. However, letting any of your important health tasks slip can cause your diabetes to become uncontrolled.
It’s important to talk with your health care provider if you notice any changes in your health.
Last Updated: May 2, 2023