Members of your diabetes care team — doctor, diabetes nurse educator and dietitian, for example — will help you learn the basics of diabetes care and offer support and encouragement along the way. But it's up to you to manage your condition. After all, no one has a greater stake in your health than you.
Learn all you can about diabetes. Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. Maintain a healthy weight. Monitor your blood sugar level, and follow your doctor's instructions for keeping your blood sugar level within your target range. Don't be afraid to ask your diabetes treatment team for help when you need it.
If you smoke or use other types of tobacco, ask your doctor to help you quit. Smoking increases your risk of various diabetes complications, including heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease. In fact, smokers who have diabetes are three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than are nonsmokers who have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Talk to your doctor about ways to stop smoking or to stop using other types of tobacco.
Like diabetes, high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels. High cholesterol is a concern, too, since the damage is often worse and more rapid when you have diabetes. When these conditions team up, they can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening conditions. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly can go a long way toward controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol. Sometimes medication is needed, too.
Your regular diabetes checkups aren't meant to replace yearly physicals or routine eye exams. During the physical, your doctor will look for any diabetes-related complications — including signs of kidney damage, nerve damage and heart disease — as well as screen for other medical problems. Your eye care specialist will check for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.
High blood sugar can weaken your immune system, which makes routine vaccines more important than ever. Ask your doctor about:
• Flu vaccine. A yearly flu vaccine can help you stay healthy during flu season as well as prevent serious complications from the flu.
• Pneumonia vaccine. Sometimes the pneumonia vaccine requires only one shot. If you have diabetes complications or you're age 65 or older, you may need a five-year booster shot.
• Hepatitis B vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends hepatitis B vaccination if you haven't previously been vaccinated against hepatitis B and you're an adult aged 19 to 59 with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The most recent CDC guidelines advise vaccination as soon as possible after diagnosis with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If you're age 60 or older and have diabetes and haven't previously received the vaccine, talk to your doctor about the whether it's right for you.
• Other vaccines. Stay up to date with your tetanus shot and its 10-year boosters. Depending on the circumstances, your doctor may recommend other vaccines as well.
Diabetes may leave you prone to gum infections. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss your teeth once a day, and schedule dental exams at least twice a year. Consult your dentist right away if your gums bleed or look red or swollen.
High blood sugar can damage the nerves in your feet and reduce blood flow to your feet. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can lead to serious infections. To prevent foot problems:
• Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water. • Dry your feet gently, especially between the toes. • Moisturize your feet and ankles with lotion. • Check your feet every day for blisters, cuts, sores, redness or swelling. • Consult your doctor if you have a sore or other foot problem that doesn't start to heal within a few days.
Aspirin reduces your blood's ability to clot. Taking a daily aspirin can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke — major concerns when you have diabetes. Ask your doctor whether daily aspirin therapy is appropriate for you, including which strength of aspirin would be best.
Alcohol can cause low blood sugar, depending on how much you drink and whether you eat at the same time. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation and always with a meal. Remember to include the calories from any alcohol you drink in your daily calorie count.
If you're stressed, it's easy to neglect your usual diabetes care routine. The hormones your body may produce in response to prolonged stress may prevent insulin from working properly, which only makes matters worse. To take control, set limits. Prioritize your tasks. Learn relaxation techniques. Get plenty of sleep.
Above all, stay positive. Diabetes care is within your control. If you're willing to do your part, diabetes won't stand in the way of an active, healthy life.