Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that causes high levels of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. This happens when the body is unable to produce or use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas. Insulin acts like a set of keys that attaches to the body’s cells and allows glucose to enter where it can be used for fuel. About 11% of Americans have some form of diabetes.
All types of diabetes can lead to high levels of sugar in the blood. Regardless of the type, your healthcare providers can help to bring your sugar levels into a normal range.
Type 1 Diabetes
This type of diabetes is an autoimmune condition (a process where the body attacks itself) that stops the pancreas from making insulin. Type 1 accounts for about 10% of all diabetes and it is most often diagnosed in children and young adults. The symptoms generally tend to appear suddenly and include increased hunger and thirst, unintended weight loss, and frequent urination. Additionally, bed-wetting in children who did not previously wet the bed is another indicator of Type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, the body is not able to use insulin properly, which leads to high blood glucose levels. This is most often seen in adults but can also develop in children. Symptoms can be similar to type 1, but a lot of people have no symptoms at the time of their diagnosis. This makes regular checkups with your primary care team very important.
Gestational diabetes occurs when your blood glucose levels become too high during pregnancy. This is diagnosed by a glucose tolerance test done between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects about 2-10% of all pregnancies and can cause birth complications, such as high birth weight, preterm birth, respiratory distress at birth, and blood sugar issues, if not correctly managed.
One in three American adults has prediabetes. Prediabetes happens when blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but not yet in the range of diabetes. Progression from prediabetes to diabetes is not inevitable. Focusing on healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy food choices, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help prevent blood sugars from getting too high.
There are many things involved in treating diabetes. Below are just a few topics to consider when working on your treatment plan with your care team.
Monitoring blood sugar
Monitoring your blood sugar is an important practice to help you manage your diabetes. Your provider will work with you to determine how often you should test blood sugar. Testing your blood sugar helps you monitor how well your treatments are working, identify dangerous blood sugar drops or spikes, track your overall progress, and learn more about your overall health.
Depending on the type of diabetes, your provider may prescribe pills or injections to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Sometimes they may prescribe more than one medication to lower your blood sugar. If your provider prescribes medications to manage your diabetes, it’s incredibly important to take them consistently and as directed. Consistency is key to helping you feel healthy and on track.
Maintaining healthy eating habits is one of the most effective ways to manage blood sugar levels. A healthy eating plan includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s important to avoid high sugar foods like cookies, candy, sweetened sodas, or fruit juice. However, there can be a place for all foods in your diet, so be sure to talk to your provider or nutritionist to discuss how to incorporate your favorite foods.
Engaging in regular physical activity is a great way to help control your blood sugar levels! Not only that, but it helps strengthen your cardiovascular system and is beneficial for your overall health. Learn to prevent low blood sugar during exercise if you’re taking a medication that may cause low blood sugars. If you are unsure about where to start your fitness journey, your provider can suggest beginner-friendly exercises that will keep you active without injury. In the meantime, look for ways to increase your activity level in day-to-day life. This could be something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking your car further away from the store entrance, or getting off the bus one stop earlier.
Manage stress levels
Stress and anxiety can make it difficult to manage your diabetes, so it is key to take care of your mental health. Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help alleviate stress and improve your overall health.
Seek out support
Diabetes can feel isolating at times, especially if those around you do not understand the disease. If you find that your diagnosis makes you feel different or distanced from those around you, you should talk to your provider about support groups or online communities. Additionally, speaking to your friends and family about broader lifestyle changes, such as family exercise routines, dietary changes, and more, can help reduce feelings of isolation.
A diabetes diagnosis may seem daunting, but your Atrius Health provider can work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you live a normal, healthy life.