Diabetes currently affects more than 280 million worldwide and nearly 21 million in the US alone. Researchers estimate that this fast-growing epidemic will strike twice as many people by 2030. If you have diabetes or have a loved-one with the disease, you know it presents many daily as well as life-long challenges. The key to meeting those challenges is taking care of yourself and being proactive in your health care. Here are some tips for living well with diabetes.
Why you need to manage your diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body produces and responds to insulin, the chemical that allows sugar to enter your cells and provide energy.
When your cells become resistant to insulin or if your body doesn't make enough insulin, it creates physical and mental havoc. If left unchecked or untreated, the elevated blood sugar in your
system can cause peripheral artery disease, nerve damage in your legs and feet, degenerating eyesight, kidney failure and heart disease.
You can avoid the life-threatening impact of diabetes by managing your blood sugar and following a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your doctor and learn the best ways to treat your condition.
In addition, pick up a copy of What to Expect When You Have Diabetes: 170 Tips for Living Well with
, an invaluable easy-to-read resource from the American Diabetes Association
that answers the many questions you may have about your disease. Here are 10 things you should know.
10 Tips to live well with diabetes
1. Recruit a good healthcare team
Having a competent and compassionate healthcare team – and being an active team member yourself – is the best strategy to managing your diabetes.
Your family doctor, a diabetes education nurse, and a dietician are core members of your team. You can locate a certified diabetes educator (CDE) in your area by calling the American Association of
Diabetes Educators Awareness Hotline at 800 TEAM-UP-4. You may also want to find a diabetes education program that offers individual or group classes. Call 800 DIABETES for a list of recognized
2. Know the symptoms of high blood sugar
The symptoms of hyperglycemia vary from person to person or even in one person day to day. But, in general, if your blood sugar is high, you will:
- Feel more hungry or thirsty than normal
- Have to urinate more frequently than usual
- Have to get up several times at night to urinate
- Feel very tired or sleepy or have no energy
- Be unable to see clearly or see halos when looking at a light
It is important to keep your blood glucose levels in check and avoid hyperglycemia because, over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves in your body. Poor circulation
puts you at risk for infections, heart problems, stroke, blindness, foot or leg amputation, kidney disease and sexual problems.
3. Know your limit
Alcohol will interfere with your body's ability to produce blood sugar. Too much can result in life-threatening low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. If you are eating a meal and you drink only a
small amount of alcohol, the alcohol will probably not cause low blood sugar. More alcohol could be problematic. However, check with your registered dietician with help on alcohol equivalents in your
4. Lose weight
Being overweight causes resistance to insulin, which makes blood sugar control difficult. Also, excess weight may raise your blood pressure, making you more prone to kidney disease or stroke. Losing
weight, among many other health benefits, will help you better manage your blood sugar. To safely and effectively lose weight, talk to your healthcare team, particularly your registered dietician,
about a weight loss plan that is appropriate for you.
5. Always have healthy snacks handy
In case of changes in your schedule or delayed meals, be sure to carry healthy snacks with you to avoid hypoglycemia as well as having to settle for junk food or fast food. Choose wholesome snacks
with 15 gram of carbohydrates per serving, particularly whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables. To make your snack more substantial, add a low-fat protein, such as low-fat cheese or a tablespoon of
6. Don't think sugar-free foods are free of carbs and calories
Though a food labeled "sugar-free" must have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving, it may still have carbohydrates and calories. For example, sugar-free pudding has 0 grams of sugar
per serving, but also has 70 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrates. In excess, even sugar-free products can damage your diet and blood sugar control. (Same goes for fat-free products.)
7. Take a walk
Many people are surprised to learn that walking is an excellent form of exercise. It is easy on your muscles and joints (you were born to walk) and it rarely causes low blood sugar. In fact, taking a
walk on a regular basis can help make your body more sensitive to insulin, aid in weight loss, and give you better control of your blood sugar levels. Other modes of exercise, such as swimming,
biking, jogging, fitness classes, yoga, and weight lifting can also be part of your exercise plan, but be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new activity.
8. Take special care of your feet
To maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, you must tend to your feet. Your feet are susceptible to diabetic nerve damage and poor circulation, making it easier for you to sustain injuries that do not
heal and get infected. Nonhealing ulcers lead to amputation, which will severely limit what you can do for yourself. Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes as well as socks or stockings to provide
cushion between your feet and shoes. And be sure to check your feet at the end of each day to look for sores, cuts, or other skin irritations. Talk to your doctor about any foot issues you have
– preventing foot sores is much easier than healing them.
9. Get a yearly eye examination
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the US. However, many eye problems are treatable if caught early. One of the most serious eye conditions is retinopathy, a disease characterized by
bleeding in the back of the eye which can lead to cloudy vision and permanent scarring of the retina. People with diabetes are also prone to get cataracts and double vision. A yearly eye exam by a
doctor who specializes in diabetic eye disease is the best way to detect eye problems in the early stages, when they most easily treated.
10. Be especially diligent about your blood sugar when you are pregnant
Pregnancy in diabetes carries risks for you and your baby. Babies born to mothers with diabetes have higher risks for birth defects and stillbirth. Many problems can be avoided if you are
diligent about keeping near normal blood sugar control before and during pregnancy. Blood sugar control is most important during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the baby's organs are
forming. Keeping control of your blood sugar also reduces the chances of your baby being abnormally large and causing a harder delivery.