Self-care gives you the power to manage diabetes and feel your best

Diabetes affects the ability of the body to lower blood sugar (glucose). This can lead to damage in many parts of the body, including blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and digestive system. Diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and blindness. With proper management and self-care, people with diabetes can lead a healthy life.

Proper self-care, combined with your personal physician's treatment program, is the best way to protect your health. With self-care, you can manage your condition and improve your health; recognize symptoms and know when to get help; and limit the risk of future health problems.

Because you can't always feel if your blood sugar is too high or too low, daily monitoring is critical for diabetics

Daily blood sugar monitoring

  • Your physician or other healthcare provider can show you how and when to check your blood sugar
  • Make checking your blood sugar a part of your daily routine
  • Record the results in a log
  • Share the log with your healthcare provider

Long-range blood sugar monitoring

Long-range monitoring will tell you how well your treatment plan is working in the long term.

  • Make appointments for an A1c (also called HbA1c) test at least twice a year
  • The A1c shows what your average blood sugar levels have been for the past two to three months
  • In general, the goal is to have an A1c of less than 7%. If your result is greater, your treatment plan may be changed for better blood sugar control
  • An A1c of 7% corresponds to an average daily blood sugar level of about 155 mg/dL

Blood sugar goals for people with diabetes

As a diabetic your healthcare provider will help you understand your target ranges or healthy blood sugar goals.

Signs of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)

  • High levels of sugar in the urine
  • Frequent urination Increased thirst
  • Fatigue Vision problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headache
  • Hunger

Signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Confusion
  • Headache

If you have diabetes, medication or insulin injections may be prescribed to help lower blood sugar

Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. When the body can't make insulin or use the insulin it has, your blood sugar can get too high, a dangerous byproduct of diabetes.

Taking medication

Some medications help your body make more insulin. Other medications make the insulin in your body work better.

Taking insulin

  • If your body can't make insulin, it can be injected. Insulin can't be taken in pill form
  • Insulin injections can be made with a needle and syringe or with an insulin pen
  • Your healthcare provider will recommend the best method for you

Balancing food and blood sugar when you have diabetes

As a diabetic, you need to know which foods affect blood sugar. Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you have to diet or give up tasty foods. It does mean learning how to balance food and blood sugar.

Carbohydrates (carbs)

  • Although carbs are part of a healthy diet, carbs also can raise your blood sugar
  • Carbs include sugars, starches and fiber
  • Sugars are in fruit, milk and honey. They are also added to foods like cereal, yogurt and desserts
  • Starches are in bread, cereals, pasta and dried beans. Corn, peas, potatoes, yams, acorn and butternut squash also are considered starchy vegetables

Fat and protein

  • Fat and protein don't have a significant effect on blood sugar, but they do affect your overall health
  • Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats like fish, vegetable oil, avocados and some nuts, like walnuts and almonds
  • Limit unhealthy saturated fats like red meat, whole milk and palm oil
  • Choose lean, low-fat protein sources like dried beans and peas, nuts, tofu, fish, egg whites, skinless poultry and nonfat milk

Diabetes can change the nerves in your feet, so it can be difficult to feel injuries or sore spots

Diabetes also affects blood flow, making it harder for cuts and sores to heal.

Make a point to check your feet every day, so you can catch problems before they get worse. If you have trouble seeing the bottoms of your feet, use a mirror or have someone help you. Examine the top, bottom and nails of each foot.

  • Look for changes in color
  • Look for any red spots or streaks
  • Look for skin changes, such as blisters, corns or calluses
  • Check for dry, cracked or scaly skin
  • Check for changes in feeling, such as numbness, tingling, coldness or burning

If you find a problem during a self-exam, call your physician immediately.

Activity or exercise is an important part of managing your diabetes

If you're overweight, exercise can help you lose extra pounds, which helps the body use its own insulin better. Activity also can relieve stress and contribute to your well-being.

If your healthcare provider clears you to start an exercise program to help manage your diabetes:

  • Check your blood sugar before you exercise
  • Choose shoes that are right for the activity
  • Wear a medical ID that says you have diabetes
  • Be sure to stretch and warm up
  • Carry fast-acting glucose tablets
  • Exercise with a partner
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Be sure to cool down afterward