Keeping Diabetes in Control Can Prevent Health Problems

Heart shaped bowl of fruit with diabetes monitor and meal plan
Healthy meal planning and monitoring your blood sugar is important for managing diabetes.

November is National Diabetes Month, a good time to spread awareness about the condition that affects more than 37 million people in the U.S. 

The focus of this year's campaign, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is taking action to prevent diabetes health problems.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or cannot use it properly. Insulin helps to regulate blood glucose/sugar levels by allowing the body’s cells to use it as energy. When there is insufficient insulin or the cells stop responding to it, too much blood sugar remains in the bloodstream.

High blood sugar levels can lead to high cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure, which over time can cause serious health problems, including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

Diabetes is also associated with an increased risk of certain kinds of cancers, including liver, pancreatic, uterine, colon, and breast cancer.

While there is currently no cure for diabetes, people can better manage the condition through lifestyle changes like losing weight, eating healthy and increasing physical activity. Working closely with your health care providers to create and maintain a self-care plan is key to managing diabetes and preventing the health problems it can cause.

Your diabetes care team

In addition to a primary care provider, a diabetes patient’s health care team may include an endocrinologist, a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, a counselor, an eye doctor, a dentist, a pharmacist, and a podiatrist.

The A-B-Cs of diabetes management

Diabetes is best managed through glucose-lowering medications, eating healthy, getting regular exercise, checking and recording blood sugar levels at home, and managing stress.

Self testing blood sugar
Monitoring your blood sugar level at home is key to keeping diabetes under control.

Part of diabetes management also includes tracking your “A-B-Cs,” which stands for A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol:

A1c: Routine blood work, called A1c, should be done several times a year. The A1c numbers help health care providers determine diabetes treatment. An A1c level of greater than 9.0 (an average blood sugar of 212) is considered uncontrolled diabetes. Maintaining an A1c of less than 7.0 (an average blood sugar of 150) is the goal for controlled diabetes.

Blood pressure: Control your blood pressure by keeping it below 140/90 mm HG (or a target your doctor sets).

Cholesterol: Keep your cholesterol in a healthy range by eating more unsaturated fats like fish, nuts, avocados and olive oil, eating fewer saturated fats found in fried and processed foods, and reducing your alcohol intake.

Additional steps to take

In addition to monitoring your A-B-Cs, regular diabetes management should include:

An annual eye exam. Because diabetes puts people at risk of sight-threatening eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts and glaucoma, individuals with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once per year.

Eye test machine
Uncontrolled diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults, which is why individuals with diabetes should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once per year.

Regular foot exams. Conduct weekly self-exams at home and schedule an annual visit with a podiatrist.

Two visits with your primary care physician.

Keeping up with any recommended vaccinations.

The benefits of diabetes management

Well-planned diabetes management pays off by helping reduce the risk of serious health complications from the disease.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research shows that people with diabetes who:

Manage their blood sugar can reduce the risk of eye, kidney, and nerve disease by 40%.

Manage their blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 33-50% and decline in kidney function by 30-70%.

Manage their cholesterol can reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications by 20-50%.

Have regular eye exams and timely treatment can prevent up to 90% of diabetes-related blindness.

Have regular foot exams and patient education can prevent up to 85% of diabetes-related amputations.

Two women jog upstairs carrying weights
Exercise is another tool to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and manage diabetes.

Find more information on managing diabetes by visiting these websites:

Diabetes Association

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases