What to Do If You Are Diagnosed With Diabetes
What Happens When you Have Diabetes?
Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with diabetes?
You may be scared, worried, anxious or all of the above. The effect of diabetes is different with each individual, but to be healthy, you need to monitor blood sugar levels, use medications as prescribed by your doctor, engage in healthy exercise and eat a healthy diet.
I have had Type 1 diabetes since 2003, and as a result, I've made many lifestyle changes. While there is no chance of a cure for my disease (Type 2 patients may reduce or eliminate symptoms of the disease by losing weight or exercising more), I do wish to maximize the quality and length of my life.
Stated in very simple terms, diabetes results from the body's inability to properly convert blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) from nutrition we ingest into energy. Insulin is the hormone that "unlocks" cells to allow them to use blood sugar. Diabetics lack adequate insulin, which results in an increase in blood glucose to potentially dangerous levels. Over time, this may causing ketoacidoisis (a by-product of the body breaking down muscle fibers for fuel), coma or worse. However, with proper treatment and management of diabetes, most patients can live a full, healthy life, suffering minimal side effects (if any) from the disease.
Did you know that November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and November 14 is World Diabetes Day? To raise awareness of the effects of diabetes and how to live a healthy life, I've written this hub based on my personal experiences living with the disease.
What does a Diabetes Diagnosis Mean for You and Your Family?
There are at least 10 general lifestyle changes to make when you receive a diabetes diagnosis. It may be hard to believe, but I am actually grateful (most days) that I have diabetes, because knowing that I cannot eat french fries, potato chips, cookies and more has removed those temptations. I feel better than ever on a diabetes diet of fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy.
You may be surprised that these lifestyle changes are not overly difficult to make. In fact, most of them are simple common sense suggestions for anyone that wishes to live a healthy life. Whether you have been diagnosed with diabetes, worried about the potential of contracting the disease, or simply looking to improve your overall health, consider these ten lifestyle changes.
Living with Diabetes
Diabetes Means You Should Make Dietary Changes
1. Switch to whole foods. Prepackaged foods may be convenient - but not for your health. They are usually loaded with unnecessary sodium, trans-fats and are low in nutritional value. Head to the produce section and load up on fruits and vegetables you can recognize. In addition, whole grain breads and pastas, beans, low fat dairy and lean meats will taste better and improve your overall blood glucose levels when you properly calculate carbohydrates and watch portion sizes.
2. Watch portion sizes. One of the simplest things a diabetic should do (or anyone watching their carbohydrate intake and/or looking to lose weight) is to properly measure portion sizes. It is very easy to underestimate the amount you are eating, which will result in higher blood sugar levels. I find that eating at a restaurant is particularly difficult. My personal rule of thumb is to increase my insulin dose by about 1/3 over what I would estimate, given hidden oils, fats and sugary sauces that are often used in restaurant preparations.
3. Prevent blood sugar spikes by combining healthy carbs with low-fat protein. Prevent highs and lows that can make you feel awful, zap your energy and even lead to irritability by combining healthy carbohydrates for energy with low-fat protein that will fill you up and keep you satisfied for a longer period of time. For example: a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole grain bread, or a turkey wrap made with a whole wheat tortilla, including some thinly sliced bell peppers, fresh spinach, crumbled goat cheese and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegarette dressing. You will be able to focus longer without the temptation to look for unhealthy snacks between meals.
Check Blood Sugar Regularly
Diabetes Means You Should Take Better Care of Your Overall Health
4. Get adequate, restful sleep. The lack of proper sleep is a big factor in declining health world-wide. For diabetics in particular, it is critical to get adequate sleep to prevent a spike in stress hormones, which release stored glucose in a fight or flight response. You might wake up to high blood sugar even if you had a healthy dinner the night before. Sleep also improves our natural ability to fight off viruses, which can also raise blood sugar levels during flu season.
5. Brush and floss regularly. Did you know that gum disease can lead to heart disease and diabetes complications? Diabetics tend to heal more slowly than other people due to compromised immune systems and capillary damage. Also, nerve damage resulting from hyperglycemia can actually result in the inability to feel pain from tooth decay. Prevent plaque build-up by brushing and flossing regularly and schedule check-ups with your dentist at least twice a year. Make sure you tell your dentist that you have diabetes so they can watch for any signs of complications.
6. Schedule regular eye examinations. The small capillaries in the eyes can suffer damage from high blood sugar faster than almost any other organ in your body. Many years ago, diabetes would often result in blindness. Today, eyesight can be retained in diabetics with regular eye examinations and vigilant eye care. Don't wait for blurry vision!
7. Foot care. Like eyes, the blood vessels and nerves in feet can be damaged from frequent high blood sugar. In the past, diabetics who did not properly manage blood glucose ran the risk of infections and/or amputations from complications of the disease. Doctors today will test feeling in the soles of the feet. It is recommended that diabetics wear socks or other coverings of the feet to prevent injury that might not be felt if there is nerve damage.
Lifestyle changes for newly diagnosed diabetics
Diabetes Means You Should Increase Physical Activity
8. Aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Believe me when I say that regular exercise - even as minimal as walking down the street to get the mail - is helpful for diabetics. Every day that I exercise for at least 20 minutes, my blood glucose levels are more consistent. I see fewer dips and spikes than I do on days when I am sedentary. If you are not currently active, be sure to talk to your doctor about incorporating exercise into your routine safely.
9. Fuel up properly to prevent low blood sugar during exercise. If your exercise session is going to last an hour or more and you are taking insulin or other blood sugar lowering medications, be sure to test before and after exercise, and eat a snack containing at least 15-20 grams of carbohydrates. I have run 6 marathons since being diagnosed with diabetes, and have only suffered hypoglycemia once.
Diabetes Means Monitoring Blood Glucose and Taking Medication
10. Test blood sugar regularly to prevent hyper- and hypoglycemia. You cannot adequately manage diabetes without knowing your glucose levels. Just as with losing weight, if you don't know where you are, you cannot properly adjust factors to reach your goal.
Type 2 diabetics often suffer from high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). This can cause blurred vision, frequent urination, excessive thirst and nausea in mild cases. More severe cases result in dizziness, fainting, coma or worse. For diabetics on medication, there is a significant risk of hypoglycemia from over-medicating and not ingesting enough carbohydrates. Most diabetics should test at least twice a day. Type 1 patients should test 6-10 times a day, depending on activity level and diet.
So, I said ten lifestyle changes to make with diabetes, but there is one more. Consider this a bonus!
11. Follow prescription medication dosing instructions. Anyone - diabetics included - should carefully follow prescription medication dosing instructions. With diabetes, however, the risk of hypoglycemia from over-medicating, or hyperglycemia from not taking medications prescribed.
Do You or a Loved One Suffer From Diabetes?
© 2011 Stephanie Hicks