By Kate Myerson, RDN, CD, CDCES, TCS, Lamoille Health Partners Care Coordinator
Diabetes is a long-term health condition that requires self-care every day. About 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, and for them, taking care of themselves between medical appointments makes a big difference in how they feel and how their condition is managed.
November is American Diabetes Month, a perfect time for anyone with diabetes to take a look at self-care strategies to help them stay on track. Each person is different. That’s why it’s essential to talk to your doctor about your diabetes self-care plan and ensure you understand what actions you need to take.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic condition – that means long-lasting or even lifelong – that affects how your body turns food into energy. Diabetes can contribute to damage or failure of different organs, especially the eyes, kidneys, heart, nerves and blood vessels, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Managing diabetes with regular appointments, treatments, and self-care helps to reduce the risk of damage to your organs and other complications.
Diabetes causes hyperglycemia — also known as high blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone in your body that controls blood sugar. With diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should, which causes blood sugar in the body to rise.
The common types of diabetes include:
- Type 1 occurs most often in children. People with Type 1 diabetes create little to no insulin and need to take medication every day.
- Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, develops over many years. It is usually diagnosed in adults. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes have developed an insulin resistance, meaning the body does not absorb insulin easily.
Taking charge of your diabetes self-care
From diet and exercise to checkups and treatment, there are several simple things people with diabetes can do to stay on top of their health. These self-care practices can also help patients with diabetes avoid hospital visits and serious health complications, according a study published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders.
- Stick with your schedule of checkups and doctor visits: The ADA advises patients schedule medical exams and blood tests at least once a year to evaluate new symptoms and complications. These include frequent blood tests to check your blood glucose level, which is measured with a reading called “hemoglobin A1C.” Other tests might be a lipid panel to measure cholesterol and a urine test to check for protein in your urine, which may be a sign of kidney damage. If you have diabetes, your doctor will also recommend foot exams and eye exams.
- Take your medications: There are many different types of drugs that can work in different ways to lower your blood sugar. Sometimes one medication will be enough, but in other cases, your doctor may prescribe a combination of medications. You might also need medications to manage other conditions that can come along with diabetes, such as heart issues or even depression and anxiety.
- Eat healthy meals: While you don’t have to completely cut out the foods you enjoy, your diabetes self-care food choice is all about finding the right balance. Working with a nurse, dietician, or nutritionist can help you figure out a food plan that works best for you.
- Stay active: Along with diet and medication, regular physical activity is an important part of managing diabetes. When you’re active, your cells become more sensitive to insulin so it works more effectively to lower your blood sugar. Light walking is a great way to start. The ADA recommends that those with diabetes aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly.
- Check your blood sugar regularly: It’s important to monitor your blood sugar levels if your doctor recommends it because knowing blood sugar levels at any point during the day can help you decide how to eat or when to exercise. For Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients, the ADA reports that the target glucose level range is different before and after meals, and you’ll need to know what range is best for you with the help of your care team.
- Plan ahead: Think ahead about activities that might require you to manage your diabetes away from home. For example, if you’re traveling, bring appropriate snacks that can help you reach the proper target glucose level if you’re blood sugar gets low. Carry your medications close at hand and in their original containers with your prescription information. Ask your care team about any special steps you need to take for time away from home.
- Speak up about your emotional health: Tracking your blood sugar, taking insulin, planning your meals, and staying active is a lot to think about. It can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Be sure to talk to your care team if you feel depressed or anxious, especially if you feel like you can’t take care of your diabetes because it’s just “too much.” Behavioral health and wellness treatment can help you feel better mentally and physically.
Self-care in between medical appointments is a great way to stay healthy. When it comes to self-care for people with diabetes, following your doctor’s recommendations is especially important. Your Lamoille Health Partners team can guide you and provide personalized support for all of your self-care strategies.
In addition, you can find guidance and support to eat healthier, be more active and lower your risk of diabetes and other conditions through the My Healthy Vermont Online Diabetes Prevention Program, from the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in partnership with Northern Counties Health Care and Lamoille Health Partners.
Schedule an appointment today to talk with your Lamoille Health Partners team of providers about your diabetes self-care plans.