A diabetes diagnosis can be daunting. After all, it is a medical condition you’ll have to manage for the rest of your life. But with the right medication and lifestyle changes, people with diabetes can live happy, fulfilling lives.
The essential part of living with diabetes is proper management. Diabetes management includes changes to your lifestyle, medications you’ll need to take, and monitoring your carb intake and blood glucose levels.
How you’ll manage your diabetes depends on multiple factors. First of all, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have different causes. As a result, they have different management approaches.
Both types of diabetes affect your body’s ability to regulate glucose or blood sugar. But in Type 1 diabetes, the body can no longer make enough insulin, leaving the body’s cells without glucose. Management of Type 1 diabetes typically focuses on replacing the body’s lost insulin to keep blood sugar in check.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body’s ability to regulate insulin and glucose breaks down. The pancreas is often still releasing insulin, but the body’s cells have become resistant to it. They stop using it to take up sugar, leading to high blood glucose levels.
Management of Type 2 diabetes tends to focus on improving insulin resistance with lifestyle modifications and medications.
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First: Know Your Glucose Levels
One of the most important parts of managing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is knowing your blood glucose levels. Knowing your level can help you decide what to eat and how much insulin to take.
Your doctor may prescribe a glucometer, a small device that can measure your blood sugar from a single drop of blood. Or, your doctor may suggest a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), a special sensor that monitors your blood sugar throughout the day.
Make sure you ask your doctor how often and when to check your blood sugar. Typically, blood sugar levels should be between 80-130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) fasting and before meals. They should be under 180 mg/dL two hours after a meal.
Diabetes Medication Management
The medications a doctor prescribes for diabetes primarily depend on the type of diabetes you have. Then, it depends on how high your blood sugar levels are.
Since the body no longer makes enough insulin, people with Type 1 diabetes take rapid- and long-acting insulin to compensate. You’ll take insulin at every meal (and even during snacks) to help your body manage the glucose it takes in. Some people living with Type 2 may also need insulin to help them manage their blood sugar.
Sometimes Type 2 diabetics don’t need medications. If you are aware of the onset in the early stages, you may be able to manage it with lifestyle changes. However, it is a progressive disease, even when well controlled, so you may need medication to manage the disease in the years to come.
But others may need medications that stimulate the body to release more insulin or make the body’s cells more sensitive to insulin. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe more than one diabetes drug.
Diabetes Lifestyle Changes
One essential management tool for living with diabetes is your lifestyle — eating the right foods and staying active. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help keep blood glucose levels in a healthy range. Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, you need to keep an eye on your carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a type of energy in our food. Simple carbs include sugars in processed foods like soda and candy, while more complex carbs are starches in whole grains. The simpler the carb, the easier your body absorbs it and the quicker your blood sugar spikes.
Processed and carbohydrate-rich foods will lead to high blood glucose levels. Ditch the white bread whenever possible — instead, eat veggies and lean meats. Whole grains are healthier and preferred when it comes to choosing grains, but it is important to remember that they will have the same effect on your blood glucose levels. Swap sugary beverages like soda or juices with drinks without carbohydrates (water is best).
Besides eating right, another essential part of managing diabetes is being physically active. That doesn’t mean spending all your free time at the gym, though —a little physical activity goes a long way. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise 5 days a week.
Regular workouts can lower your blood pressure, improve circulation, boost your mood, and improve your sleep. And — bonus! — it helps keep your blood sugar in check.
Working with Your Healthcare Team
Finally, having a good healthcare team can make a difference in successfully managing diabetes.
Most people with diabetes see their doctor twice a year. They may also see other providers, including nutritionists, diabetes educators, or other specialists.
By taking the time to work with your doctors, you can better address any management problems so you can be more confident about your day-to-day care.
Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. T1D Basics - JDRF. Link.
National Institutes of Health. Type 2 Diabetes | NIDDK. Link.
National Institutes of Health. Insulin, Medicines, & Other Diabetes Treatments | NIDDK. Link.
Centers for Disease Control. Carb Counting | CDC. Link.
National Institutes of Health. Diabetes Diet, Eating, & Physical Activity | NIDDK. Link.
Connect with UPMC
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.