There are nearly 30 million people in the United States living with type 2 diabetes. For many people with the condition, applying an effective management plan can feel overwhelming. Knowing the basics of how diabetes works, the signs to look out for and how to achieve your health goals can make your journey less stressful to manage.

How Diabetes Works

“If you have diabetes, your body has difficulty breaking down the sugars in food because it lacks or does not respond to insulin,” says Avni Jain, MD, a family medicine physician with Adventist Medical Group. “Without proper management, this can cause serious health issues, including vision loss, heart attacks and strokes.”

Diabetes tends to run in families and is diagnosed more frequently among African-Americans, Hispanics/ Latinos and Native Americans. Diabetes is often caused by preventable risk factors, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits.

Symptoms to Look Out For

Type 2 diabetes affects every part of your body and can produce mild to severe symptoms. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling thirsty or hungry after eating or drinking
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Skin infections, itching and rashes
  • Blurry vision, glaucoma or cataracts
  • Nerve damage
  • Slow-healing cuts and bruises
  • Tingling, pain and numbness in your hands and feet

If you notice you have new symptoms or your present symptoms get worse, talk to your physician right away.

Tips to Manage Your Diabetes

You and your family can follow these tips to ensure you maintain a normal body weight, experience less diabetes-related complications and stay focused on your health.

Know your “Diabetes ABCs”

Knowing your numbers and keeping them low greatly reduces your chance of experiencing complications. Dr. Jain recommends regularly getting these levels tested at home or at your doctor’s office:

  •  A1C – In addition to checking your blood glucose levels at home, getting an A1C blood test at your doctor’s office is key. “The A1C blood test evaluates your blood sugar levels over a three-month period,” Dr. Jain says. “For optimal control of your diabetes, keep your A1C level under 7. If your A1C level is consistently above 7, your condition is not under control and you are at higher risk for serious health complications”
  • Blood pressure – Blood pressure describes the force of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels. If the pressure is too high, your heart is working too hard which can cause serious complications.
  • Cholesterol – There are two types of cholesterol to be aware of – HDL and LDL. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol and can clog your blood vessels while HDL, or the “good” cholesterol, helps keep them clear. “To reduce your risk of heart disease, aim to keep your LDL levels as low as possible while raising your HDL,” says Dr. Jain.
Eat Nutritious Foods

Healthy eating involves controlling your portion sizes, reading food labels and substituting unhealthy foods with more nutritious alternatives. “If you have diabetes, watching your diet is very important so that you can maintain a healthy weight and avoid foods that can increase your blood sugar levels,” says Dr. Jain. Examples of healthy foods to eat are fiber-rich whole grain pasta and bread, leafy green vegetables and fruits. Season food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Avoid sweet desserts, such as cakes and ice cream, processed meats, fried foods and other foods high in salt and saturated fat.

Increase Physical Activity

To control your blood sugar, aim to be physically active for 60 minutes, at least four to six days a week. “A great way to get into a consistent routine is by going for short walks several times throughout the day and increasing your distance over time,” says Dr. Jain. “Also consider taking up hobbies that allow you to enjoy yourself while also staying active, such as gardening or bike riding.” Not only will more physical activity help you maintain a healthy weight but can also help you maintain healthy blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Assemble a Health Care Team

A quality health care team will help create a customized care plan that works for you. “Your team should give you quality advice and care based on your unique circumstance and keeps you on track with your management strategy,” says Dr. Jain. “Important people to have on your team are your primary care physician, an endocrinologist that is specially trained in diabetes management and nutrition and fitness experts that can help you set goals and stick to them.”

Set Manageable Goals

Whether it’s deciding to eat healthier or remembering to check your levels, there a few strategies to help you successfully accomplish your goals. Clearly identifying improvement areas, writing down necessary steps and anticipating pitfalls are great ways to prepare yourself for action. After you put your plan into action, readjust your approach if needed.

Take Your Medication as Prescribed

While eating healthier, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight will help you keep your diabetes under control, most people will also need medication. Dr. Jain says to take your medication as prescribed and to not skip or miss doses. “If you have trouble taking or remembering your medications, your doctor can help you find the right medication and create a plan that fits your needs.”

Encourage Group Participation

Making long-term positive changes are often easier when your loved ones are also willing to make them with you. You and your family can explore new recipes that are high in nutrients and low in saturated fat. Also, consider making exercise a group activity. Many of the lifestyle improvements physicians recommend are also beneficial to people who do not have diabetes.

Seek Emotional Support

People with diabetes must control their stress levels to avoid raising their blood sugar. If you feel frustrated with your progress, seek the support of family or friends who you can talk to. Dr. Jain says to remember you are not alone on your journey. “Joining a support group or online community with other people who have diabetes can help reduce your stress and help you stay focused on improving your health.”

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Diabetes Research Institute

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