When you learn you have diabetes, ask your doctor to refer you to a diabetes education program or a diabetes educator. You will need to learn what and how to eat to control your blood glucose levels and how to check your blood glucose. You may also need to learn about diabetes medicines. You will be shown what to do to prevent or delay serious problems.
Most people feel much better after learning how to take care of their diabetes. Following your treatment plan helps you keep your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Controlling your blood glucose can:
- help prevent symptoms of high blood glucose, such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, weakness, inability to concentrate, loss of coordination, and blurred vision
- help prevent low blood glucose, or what is called insulin shock, or insulin reaction, or hypoglycemia
- help prevent your blood glucose from becoming too high, or what is called hyperglycemia
- help prevent or delay serious, long-term complications, including blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure
The impact of not treating diabetes is severe. If you have diabetes and don't treat it, you can end up very sick. It takes effort to follow your treatment plan, but your efforts have significant impact on your overall health. Several studies have shown that people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can greatly reduce the risk of complications, including eye disease and kidney disease, by keeping their blood glucose under strict control.
From Treatment to Management
The actions you take to control your blood glucose levels through eating and exercise can have an immediate impact. But you need to continue these efforts every day. Except for the type of diabetes that pregnant women get — called gestational diabetes — once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it does not go away. You can manage it but not cure it. You will need to take measures to treat it for the rest of your life.
Managing your diabetes means keeping your blood glucose as close to normal as possible at all times to prevent long-term complications. You can do this by:
- closely following the meal plan your healthcare providers recommend
- being physically active on most days
- taking the medications your doctor prescribes as directed
- maintaining your ideal weight
The types of medication you need depend on the type of diabetes you have.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin because your body can't make it. You need insulin to help turn your food into energy. You may take insulin by giving yourself a shot or by another method, such as an insulin pump. Insulin shots, in combination with a healthy meal plan and a physical activity plan, are the only ways to keep your blood glucose levels under control.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to keep your blood glucose levels under control with healthy eating, physical activity, and, if needed, losing weight. If these treatments aren't enough, you may need to take diabetes pills or give yourself insulin every day. You may take insulin by giving yourself a shot or by another method, such as an insulin pump.
If you have gestational diabetes, you may be able to keep your blood glucose levels under control with healthy eating and physical activity. If these efforts don't work, you may need to take insulin every day. You may take insulin by giving yourself a shot or by another method, such as an insulin pump.
Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, it's key to carefully and regularly monitor your blood glucose levels. Checking your levels with a glucose meter can help you know when your level is too low or too high. It can also help you tell how well your treatment plan is working. Your doctor and your diabetes educators can help you learn how to check your blood glucose. They will also teach you what your goal numbers should be as well as what is too high and too low.
Written by award-winning health writer Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008