How to Manage Diabetes If You Have It (and Prevent It If You Don’t)

Thirty years ago, the subject of diabetes was far from taboo, but it wasn’t talked about that much, either. You only knew about it if you or someone you knew suffered from it. Now, it seems like every other commercial is advertising a new insulin delivery method, glucose monitoring system or other product made especially for diabetics.

The numbers explain everything. About 26 million Americans of all ages suffer from either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, and 2 million new cases are diagnosed every year. Whether caused by genetics, lifestyle, pregnancy or a thyroid disorder, diabetes requires constant care and management; otherwise, it can take a huge physical, emotional and financial toll.

Here are just a few of them, as reported by the American Diabetes Association:

  • Diabetes was a contributing factor in more than 231,000 deaths in the US in 2007.
  • Approximately one-third of these cases are undiagnosed and thus untreated.
  • Diabetics are 2-4 times more likely to suffer a stroke than non-diabetics.
  • About two-thirds of diabetics suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure.
  • More than 60% of all non-traumatic lower limb amputations occur in diabetics.
  • Diabetes costs $245 billion each year in medical costs and lowered productivity.

As you can see, diabetes is a problem for everyone. Luckily, there are numerous ways to manage the condition; what’s more, many of these practices can help prevent diabetes in the first place, if done early enough. If you’re living with diabetes or want to take steps to prevent it, make a commitment to do the following:

Get Out and Exercise

While exercise is good for everyone, diabetics enjoy several benefits. Regular exercise is a great way to lower blood sugar levels, curb your appetite and even lower the need for insulin or oral medications. If you’re not getting regular exercise, make it part of your health routine.

Instead of getting in your car to buy something, walk to the store. Don’t spend your entire lunch hour at your desk; spend half of it walking around the block. If the weather isn’t cooperating, visit a gym or invest in a stationary bike or rowing machine. The more exercise you can get, the easier it’ll be to manage (or prevent) your diabetes.

Eat Healthy Nutrients

Food is necessary to live, but for diabetics, too much food — or too much of the wrong food — can lead to serious complications down the road. If you want to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, replace the junk food in your shelves with more nutritious alternatives.

Try to avoid starchy foods like rice and potatoes; if you really want them, go with whole-grain alternatives. Add more high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables to your diet. Stay away from high-fat foods; they can raise your cholesterol and cause heart problems. As for junk food, it might taste good, but it does nothing to keep your diabetes under control.

Follow Your Regimen Faithfully

Regimens, medical and otherwise, are a given in a diabetic’s life. Insulin injections, oral medications and glucose tests become normal daily events. It’s not always easy to follow these regimens if you’re always on the go, but it’s the only way to manage your diabetes.

Insulin is crucial to lowering your blood sugar, so take your doses as directed by your doctor. Also, you don’t have to sit out special occasions to avoid eating certain foods, but make indulgences like cake and alcohol the exception, not the rule. Above all, check your blood sugar regularly; you can’t manage high or low levels unless you know they’re occurring.

See Your Doctors Regularly

If you have diabetes, your schedule fills up quickly with doctor’s visits. There’s your primary doctor, as well as specialists for your diabetes, eyes, kidneys, feet, heart and other organs. In order to get the best care possible, make regular appointments with all of them.

Depending on how well you’re controlling your diabetes, you’ll likely see each doctor every six months or so, or more if there’s a problem.  If you aren’t seeing these specialists, ask your primary care doctor for referrals. If you have names but don’t schedule visits, start making appointments now. Here’s a tip: during each visit, schedule your next visit so you don’t forget.

Take Steps to Prevent Complications

When you have diabetes, your immune system is weakened, making you more likely than non-diabetecs to develop gum disease, skin infections and other complications. That means good hygiene is more important than ever, so pay special attention to your daily cleansing routines.

Protect your skin by avoiding very hot showers and moisturizing your skin. Foot problems are especially common among diabetics, so keep them clean and dry, and trim your toenails regularly. Brush and floss 2-3 times a day and make regular visits to a dentist. If you get a cut of any kind, treat it with antiseptic to keep infections at bay.

Don’t Drink or Smoke

Many people enjoy a regular drink or puff of a cigarette, and while these behaviors come with well-known health risks, having diabetes makes them even more likely — and more serious. Keep this in mind if you’re still taking part in your favorite past-times.

If you smoke, there’s only one solution: stop now. Diabetics who smoke are three times more likely to die of heart disease. They also suffer reduced circulation, which can exacerbate foot problems and make it harder for wounds and other injuries to heal. There’s no reason to even start smoking in the first place, but there’s every reason to stop if you’re a diabetic.

The rules for alcohol are a little less clear. Many people drink, socially and more frequently, but alcohol can cause a diabetic’s blood sugar to go too low. Thus, either have a snack before going out or have snacks with you while you’re drinking. Also, make sure someone nearby knows you’re a diabetic; it could be dangerous if someone mistakes your hypoglycemia for drunkenness.

When it comes to managing diabetes, there are a lot of little things that need to be done every day. Start taking control of your diabetes by making the necessary changes now. If you don’t have diabetes, do them anyway, to prevent a diagnosis later.

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