How to Avoid Diabetes Problems

You can do a lot to prevent or slow down diabetes problems. Following your diabetes plan and taking care of yourself can reduce your risk of serious or life-threatening complications. Below, you will find certain things you can do to prevent diabetes problems.

MANAGE YOUR DIABETES

Follow your caregiver's, nurse educator's, and dietitian's instructions for managing your diabetes. They will teach you the basics of diabetes care. They can help answer questions you may have. Learn about diabetes and make healthy choices regarding eating and physical activity. Monitor your blood glucose level regularly. Your caregiver will help you decide how often to check your blood glucose level depending on your treatment goals and how well you are meeting them.

DO NOT SMOKE

Smoking and diabetes are a dangerous combination. Smoking raises your risk for diabetes problems. If you quit smoking, you will lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, nerve disease, and kidney disease. Your cholesterol and your blood pressure levels may improve. Your blood circulation will also improve. If you smoke, ask your caregiver for help in quitting.

KEEP YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE UNDER CONTROL

Keeping your blood pressure under control will help prevent damage to your eyes, kidneys, heart, and blood vessels. Blood pressure consists of two numbers. The top number should be below 120, and the bottom number should be below 80 (120/80). Keep your blood pressure as close to these numbers as you can. If you already have kidney disease, you may want even lower blood pressure to protect your kidneys. Talk to your caregiver to make sure that your blood pressure goal is right for your needs. Meal planning, medicines, and exercise can help you reach your blood pressure target. Have your blood pressure checked at every visit with your caregiver.

KEEP YOUR CHOLESTEROL UNDER CONTROL

Normal cholesterol levels will help prevent heart disease and stroke. These are the biggest health problems for people with diabetes. Keeping cholesterol levels under control can also help with blood flow. Have your cholesterol level checked at least once a year. Meal planning, exercise, and medicines can help you reach your cholesterol targets.

SCHEDULE AND KEEP YOUR ANNUAL PHYSICAL EXAMS AND EYE EXAMS

Your caregiver will tell you how often he or she wants to see you depending on your plan of treatment. It is important that you keep these appointments so that possible problems can be identified early and complications can be avoided or treated.

  • Every visit with your caregiver should include your weight, blood pressure, and an evaluation of your blood glucose control.

  • Your hemoglobin A1c should be checked:

  • At least twice a year if you are at your goal.

  • Every 3 months if there are changes in treatment.

  • If you are not meeting your goals.

  • Your blood lipids should be checked yearly. You should also be checked yearly to see if you have protein in your urine (microalbumin).

  • Schedule a dilated eye exam if you have type 1 diabetes within 5 years of your diagnosis and then yearly. Schedule a dilated eye exam if you have type 2 diabetes at diagnosis and then yearly. All exams thereafter can be extended to every 2 to 3 years if one or more exams have been normal.

KEEP YOUR VACCINES CURRENT

The flu vaccine is recommended yearly. The formula for the vaccine changes every year and needs to be updated for the best protection against current viruses. In addition, you should get a vaccination against pneumonia at least once in your life. However, there are some instances where another vaccine is recommended. Check with your caregiver.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET

Diabetes may cause you to have a poor blood supply (circulation) to your legs and feet. Because of this, the skin may be thinner, break easier, and heal more slowly. You also may have nerve damage in your legs and feet causing decreased feeling. You may not notice minor injuries to your feet that could lead to serious problems or infections. Taking care of your feet is very important.

Visual foot exams are performed at every routine medical visit. The exams check for cuts, injuries, or other problems with the feet. A comprehensive foot exam should be done yearly. This includes visual inspection as well as assessing foot pulses and testing for loss of sensation. You should also do the following:

  • Inspect your feet daily for cuts, calluses, blisters, ingrown toenails, and signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pus.

  • Wash and dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes.

  • Avoid soaking your feet regularly in hot water baths.

  • Moisturize dry skin with lotion, avoiding areas between your toes.

  • Cut toenails straight across and file the edges.

  • Avoid shoes that do not fit well or have areas that irritate your skin.

  • Avoid going barefooted or wearing only socks. Your feet need protection.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH

People with poorly controlled diabetes are more likely to have gum (periodontal) disease. These infections make diabetes harder to control. Periodontal diseases, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and see your dentist for checkups and cleaning every 6 months, or 2 times a year.

ASK YOUR CAREGIVER ABOUT TAKING ASPIRIN

Taking aspirin daily is recommended to help prevent cardiovascular disease in people with and without diabetes. Ask your caregiver if this would benefit you and what dose he or she would recommend.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY

Moderate amounts of alcohol (less than 1 drink per day for adult women and less than 2 drinks per day for adult men) have a minimal effect on blood glucose if ingested with food. It is important to eat food with alcohol to avoid hypoglycemia. People should avoid alcohol if they have a history of alcohol abuse or dependence, if they are pregnant, and if they have liver disease, pancreatitis, advanced neuropathy, or severe hypertriglyceridemia.

LESSEN STRESS

Living with diabetes can be stressful. When you are under stress, your blood glucose may be affected in two ways:

  • Stress hormones may cause your blood glucose to rise.

  • You may be distracted from taking good care of yourself.

It is a good idea to be aware of your stress level and make changes that are necessary to help you better manage challenging situations. Support groups, planned relaxation, a hobby you enjoy, meditation, healthy relationships, and exercise all work to lower your stress level. If your efforts do not seem to be helping, get help from your caregiver or a trained mental health professional.