Having diabetes can be tough, but there are lots of things you can do to make managing the disease easier. By living a healthy lifestyle and getting all of the recommended screenings and tests, you can reduce the possibility of complications from diabetes.
Blood sugar (glucose) is an essential measure of your health. One of the best ways to keep your blood sugar under control is routine testing with a glucose meter. Talk to your doctor about which meter is best for you and how to accurately measure your blood sugar.
Another important measure of your blood sugar control is an A1C test, which is performed by a health care provider. An A1C test measures your average blood glucose level over the last two to three months, and should be tested at least twice a year. For most people, an A1C level of less than 7 percent is considered good control. Having an A1C of more than 7 percent greatly increases your risk of developing kidney, heart, eye, periodontal, and nerve disease. You can help keep your A1C level low by eating a healthy, well-rounded diet, staying active, losing excess body fat, having good oral hygiene, and taking appropriate medications. Having your A1C tested regularly and keeping it at a healthy level is essential to diabetes care.
People with diabetes are also two to three times more likely to develop heart and kidney disease. Since the cardiovascular risks are so great, it's important to keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg. You can help keep your heart healthy by understanding your blood pressure numbers and goals, testing it regularly, and taking hypertension medication if necessary. Eating a diet low in sodium and maintaining a healthy weight will also help lower your blood pressure.
For many people with diabetes, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB) can help control your blood pressure and prevent or slow the progression of diabetes and kidney disease. These oral medications open the blood vessels and reduce fluid retention — two main factors in hypertension. Talk to your doctor about which medications are right for you.
Since diabetes can affect your vision, it's also important to have an annual eye exam. Diabetic retinopathy, or damage to blood vessels in the retina, is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Adults with diabetes are also nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma. Timely treatment and follow-up care can help reduce the risk of blindness by nearly 95 percent, according to the National Eye Institute. Despite these benefits, many people with diabetes do not receive a dilated retinal exam as often as needed. Your doctor can refer you to an eye care specialist or you may contact an eye doctor directly to schedule your next dilated retinal exam.
Oral health and the control of diabetes are also related. Studies have indicated that people with diabetes can control their blood sugar better if they have good oral health. Specifically, the improvement of a patient’s periodontal (gum) condition may lead to better diabetes control. Additionally, better control of diabetes can lead to a decrease in oral inflammation and periodontal disease.
Living with diabetes can be tough, but by staying on top of screenings and tests, keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level, taking necessary medications, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, you can help limit its harmful effects. By taking control of diabetes, you'll help ensure that it doesn't control you.
Diabetes at a Glance
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin or the body does not properly use it, thus allowing glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells. Excess glucose builds up in the blood and causes damage throughout the body. Cells starve during the buildup of glucose in the blood, leading to symptoms of diabetes.
What are the two main types of diabetes?
- Type 1. Usually develops during childhood and is predominately genetic. The immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin shots are needed to survive.
- Type 2. The most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90 percent to 95 percent of diabetes cases. It results when the pancreas produces too little insulin or the cells do not adequately absorb it.
How serious is diabetes?
Diabetes has no cure. It is a progressive disease that can lead to chronic medical conditions that lessen quality of life and can lead to death. Complications include:
- High blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Heart attack or stroke.
- Foot infections and nerve damage that can lead to amputations.
Who's at risk for developing diabetes?
Risk factors for diabetes include:
- Having a family history of diabetes.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Being over 45 years old.
- Being Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or a Pacific Islander.
What should you do if you have diabetes?
- See your doctor regularly.
- Check your blood glucose (sugar) regularly.
- Receive A1C tests at least twice a year to measure your average glucose (sugar) in your blood over a three-month period.
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Check your LDL cholesterol yearly or more.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Practice good oral hygiene and see a dentist regularly.
- Don't smoke.
- Examine your feet regularly.
- Get annual eye exams.