Learning to Live with Diabetes
Learning that you have diabetes is not easy. Facing a chronic disease with potentially dreadful complications, and one that requires lifelong vigilance in monitoring blood sugars and food choices, adherence to medications, as well as consistent physical activity, may cause stress and feelings of anger and fear.
You are not alone. Nearly 24 million Americans – adults and children – cope with diabetes every single day. The good news is that with the proper education, medical care and lifestyle choices, you can lead a healthy and productive life.
While diabetes is a common disease, each person with diabetes requires unique care. At the Ingalls Outpatient Diabetes Management Center, we encourage people with diabetes and their families to learn as much as possible about the latest medical therapies and approaches, as well as healthy lifestyle choices. Good communication with a team of experts can help you feel in control of your illness and help you respond to your changing needs.
The first step in learning to live with diabetes is to work towards keeping your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Tight glycemic control has been shown to slow and/or prevent the progression of many complications of diabetes, giving you extra years of healthy, active living.
In a milestone study called the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), researchers followed 1,441 people with type 1 diabetes for several years. Half the participants followed standard diabetes treatment while the other half followed an intensive-control program. Those on intensive control kept their blood glucose levels lower than those on standard treatment, although the average level was still above normal.
Those who kept their diabetes under tight control had better results. For instance: diabetic eye disease started in only one-quarter as many people; kidney disease started in only half as many people; nerve disease started in only one-third as many people; and far fewer diabetics who already had early forms of these complications got worse.
And while this particular study only looked at type 1 diabetics, similar studies showed the same for individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Tight glycemic control involves hard work, and can only be attained safely by paying strict attention to diet and exercise; measuring blood glucose levels often; and – for those on insulin – working with a diabetes specialist to create the most effective insulin regimen possible.
Tight control means getting as close to a normal – or non-diabetic – blood glucose level as is safely possible. Ideally, this means levels between 90 and 130 mg/dl before meals, and 120 to 180 two hours after starting a meal, with a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) level close to 6.5%.
It is important to note that each individual should set his or her own goals with their doctor. For some people, especially the elderly or those who are unable to feel or respond to a low blood glucose, keeping a normal glucose level all the time may not be practical, and may even be dangerous. In general, one should aim to lower blood glucose level as low as safely possible to help prevent complications, such as diabetes-related vision loss, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot and circulation problems, strokes and heart disease
If you or a loved one has diabetes, here are some tips to manage it more effectively from the Ingalls Outpatient Diabetes Management Center:
- Follow a diabetes meal plan. Choose healthy foods such as fruits (in moderation) and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese. Keep fish and lean meat and poultry portion to about three ounces (or the size of a deck of cards). Bake, broil, or grill it. And remember to eat foods that have less salt and fat, instead concentrating on foods with more fiber such as whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta.
- Get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Brisk walking is a great way to get moving.
- Maintain a healthy weight; if you’re overweight, work with your healthcare team or a dietitian to take off extra pounds safely and sensibly.
- Check your blood sugar levels one or more times a day. Talk with your health care team about your targets and ask how to use the results to best manage your diabetes.
- If you smoke, ask for help to quit.
- Get help if you feel sad or stressed. Stress can raise your blood glucose level. And while it is impossible to remove all stress from your life, you can learn ways to handle it more effectively.
- Take your medications even when you feel good. If you experience side effects, tell your doctor.
- Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters, red spots, and swelling. Call your health care team right away about any sores that do not go away.
- Brush your teeth and floss every day to avoid problems with your mouth, teeth, or gums.
- Report any changes in your eyesight to your doctor.
Living with diabetes may seem overwhelming at times, but when it is managed properly, you can enjoy a healthy, active and productive life.
For more information about managing your diabetes, call the Ingalls Outpatient Diabetes Management Center at 708-915-8530.