Managing Diabetes

by Julie Carney

From PHN Issue 33, Summer 2017

Diabetes is a group of diseases caused by too much sugar, or glucose, in the blood. Our bodies have a hormone, insulin, which is produced by our pancreas, that helps move glucose out of the blood and into our cells. In diabetes, less glucose enters into the cells, and instead it builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar. In Type 1 diabetes, the body makes no insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin or can’t use it well. In Gestational diabetes, a person gets diabetes when they are pregnant, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy.

The focus of this article will be on Type 2 diabetes, because it is the most common form of diabetes. Although there is no cure for Type 2 diabetes, it can be prevented, or it can be managed well for a long and healthy life.

How do I know if I have Type 2 diabetes?

You are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of diabetes and/or you have high blood pressure. Some studies identify being medically defined as overweight as a risk factor, while other studies indicate that being overweight may be a symptom of diabetes more than a cause. It’s important to be tested, even if you don’t meet these risk factors.

Ask your healthcare provider for a fasting blood sugar test. If you have a fasting blood sugar result of 126 mg/dL or higher, it means you might have diabetes. A fasting blood sugar between 100 mg/dL and 125 mg/dL indicates you might be developing diabetes. A fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dL is normal. If your fasting blood sugar is 100 mg/dL or higher, it should be repeated, to be certain.

If your diabetes is undiagnosed for a long period of time, you might have the following symptoms:

• Urinating a lot

• Being very thirsty

• Having blurry vision

• Having numb or tingling feet

The longer you wait without managing your diabetes, the worse your symptoms will be. So it’s important to test your blood sugar so that you know if you have diabetes or you are at risk of developing diabetes, and to make sure you are on the right management plan. 

How do I manage my diabetes?

Take your medicine, if you need it: There are different types of diabetes pills that help your body make more insulin, help your body slow down the production of glucose made by your liver, or help your body use its own insulin better. Sometimes doctors recommend you take a combination of pills, because they target the problem of blood sugar in different ways. These drugs can have side effects, so it is important to write down and tell your doctor any negative side effects that you experience. Depending on how long you have had diabetes and how high your blood sugar is, you might have to take insulin injections.

Ask your healthcare provider for the A-1-C test: The A-1-C test is a measure of your blood sugar control over the past three months. Your A-1-C should be under 7%. You should take your A-1-C test every three months.

Measure your blood sugar before meals, if you can: If you are able to monitor your own blood sugar regularly with a glucose meter, write down your levels. If your blood sugar is high, you might notice you have blurry vision, leg cramps, headache, fatigue, thirst, or frequent urination. If your blood sugar is low, you might notice feeling shaky, sweaty, dizzy, confused, or aggressive.

Track your progress: Writing down your blood sugar, your activities and foods, and how you feel can help you notice patterns in your diabetes management. Include the date, time, what you ate, your blood sugar, any prior exercise or physical activities, and how you feel. This can be helpful for you to notice any positive or negative changes to show your healthcare provider, and to make any appropriate changes to your diet or medications.

Eat carefully: Try to find healthy foods with less sugar, less fat, less salt, and more fiber. Eat fruit and vegetables, especially raw vegetables, whenever they are available. Try to be consistent about the amount of starch or sweet foods (carbohydrates) that you eat each day. If you are taking medicines that lower blood sugar, ask your healthcare provider if they have specific dietary recommendations.

Exercise: Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (exercise that makes your pulse and breathing faster) five days a week. Add strength training, if you are able. Physical activity directly lowers blood sugar.

Try to stop smoking: If you have diabetes and you smoke, you are more likely to have serious health problems from diabetes, including heart and kidney disease and health problems resulting from poor blood circulation.

Some of this information came from the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook. To request a free copy, write to Prison Legal News, P.O. Box 1151, 1013 Lucerne Ave, Lake Worth, FL 33460.

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