Having diabetes can result in many other complications, such as damage to the heart, nerves, kidneys, feet, eyes, and skin. If you have diabetes, you may also have a greater risk for osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Some diabetes complications are related to high or low blood sugar, while others are related to how long you’ve had diabetes.
The best way to mange diabetes and avoid diabetes complications is by monitoring your blood sugar (glucose) with a glucose meter, or glucometer. “How often you monitor your blood sugar depends on the type of diabetes you have, if you have diabetes complications, and your diabetes treatment plan,” says Amber Taylor, MD, director of diabetes at The Center for Endocrinology of Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, Md.
Tips for Controlling Blood Sugar:
Spyros G.E. Mezitis, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, suggests these general healthy-lifestyle habits to make controlling your blood sugar easier:
- Follow a low-fat, low-salt, low-carbohydrate diet.
- Pass on processed foods.
- Do at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight.
- Take any and all diabetes medications as prescribed.
- Following your insulin treatment program if needed.
Work with your own doctor to personalize this general plan. “There isn’t a best way to manage diabetes — the right approach is the one that works well for you,” Dr. Taylor says. “Different people with diabetes need different treatment plans, and test results are used to watch for and prevent complications.”
At your doctor’s office, the A1C test is an important way to measure your average blood sugar control for the prior three months and gauge how good of a job you’re doing at home. “The A1C target for most people with diabetes is less than 7 percent, which is the lowest risk for complications from high blood sugar,” she says. “Some people, especially younger adults with diabetes, may have an even lower target to help prevent diabetes complications long-term.”
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The A1C test is used to:
- Confirm that other test results, such as those done by self-testing or by your doctor, are accurate.
- Show if your treatment plan is successful.
- Demonstrate that healthy diet and lifestyle choices can make a difference in controlling your diabetes.
Minimizing Diabetes Complications
The best way to prevent most diabetes complications is to see your doctor regularly, and to call him or her if you experience any new symptoms. Some complications, such as eye disorders, occur after many years of diabetes. “It’s essential for people with diabetes to see an eye doctor at least once a year whether they have vision problems or not,” Taylor says. “Ophthalmologists have tools to stop retinopathy and other diabetes-related eye disorders from progressing.”
Good self-care and immediate medical attention for even a minor symptom are important steps in preventing the type of amputations often associated with diabetes. For instance, you can help to prevent foot ulcers by practicing good foot care, but if an ulcer develops, see your doctor or a foot specialist (podiatrist) immediately. “Even small foot ulcers can grow quickly and lead to infection,” Taylor advises. Infections that resist treatment can lead to amputation to stop their spread.
- Make and keep all needed check-ups with your doctors and others on your diabetes team.
- Keep your immunizations up to date to fight infections.
- Wear a diabetes tag or ID bracelet so that you receive the right treatment in an emergency.
- Have a glucagon kit handy in case of a low blood sugar emergency.
- Take care of your skin and your feet to prevent infections, and check for any signs of infection every day.
“It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all this information,” Taylor says. “When you think of questions, write them down and bring them to your next visit with your doctor. Advocate for yourself, know your targets for A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight, and do everything in your power to achieve these goals.”
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