If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to pay special attention to certain aspects of your health and lifestyle.
Diabetes doesn't have to stop you from leading the life you want. Nor does it mean you'll necessarily have other serious health problems in the future.
With careful management you can control the condition, rather than the condition controlling you. This will allow you to stay healthy, active and live a full life.
Without taking these measures, you are putting yourself at an increased risk of health problems, which could force you to change your lifestyle entirely.
Structured education programmes can teach you more about managing diabetes. Learn more about diabetes education.
When you were diagnosed, you should have been assigned to a diabetes care team, who will have explained the most important aspects of managing your condition.
You may also have learnt to monitor your blood glucose (sugar) level regularly, and to understand how it is affected by food and exercise.
If you need help to keep your blood glucose level stable, you may have been prescribed diabetes medication, or insulin to inject.
To stay well, it's important to use these aspects of your treatment properly. However, it's also important that you take other steps to help manage the condition and lower your risk of further health problems.
Learning to manage your diabetes takes time, patience and effort. You may also be coping with difficult emotions after your diagnosis, such as anger, confusion or depression.
Diabetes health risks
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes put you at increased risk of:
- heart disease
- nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)
- foot ulcers
- blindness - caused by diabetic retinopathy
- chronic kidney disease
- skin lesions
- damage to breast tissue in women
- circulation problems - which, in the most serious of cases, can lead to gangrene (tissue death)
- muscle-wasting and damage to ligaments and joints
Healthy living with diabetes
However, there are many things you can do to minimise your risk of these problems.
Firstly, it's important that you take your insulin and other medicines properly.
As well as taking your medicines or insulin, there are a few key steps you can take to prevent or delay the health complications associated with diabetes:
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. This will help control your blood glucose level, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that's low in fat, salt and sugar. This doesn't mean you can never eat biscuits or cakes again, but try to eat sugary and fatty foods in moderation.
- Don't smoke. If you smoke, there's plenty of support available to help you stop. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke even further.
- Get active for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. This helps you stay at a healthy weight and maintain good general health. It doesn't have to be the gym: there are plenty of other ways to keep active, such as playing with your kids, gardening, or any activity that gently raises your heart rate.
- Check your feet every day. The nerve damage that can occur in diabetes most commonly affects feet. Read more about diabetes and foot health.
- Keep your appointments with your diabetes care team. Regular check-ups once every three months are an important part of managing your diabetes.
Go on a diabetes education course
It's important for anyone who has diabetes to learn how to manage the condition. Short courses, such as DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) for type 1 diabetes and DESMOND (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed) for type 2 diabetes, may help.
If you have diabetes and you haven't yet attended an education programme, talk to your GP or diabetes care team, as they can refer you to a local one.
Research has found that even very brief educational courses, provided they are well structured and of good quality, can lead to a prolonged improvement in symptoms, better controlled blood glucose levels and a reduced risk of complications.
Find diabetes information and support services near you.
Article provided by NHS Choices