Understanding and Managing Diabetes

Understanding and Managing Diabetes


Diabetes is a common disease characterized by high blood sugar levels. This is caused by changes in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin. The prevalence of diabetes increases with age but it is not a normal part of aging. There are two main types of diabetes: 

  • Type 1: Usually diagnosed in children and young adults. The body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily activity.
  • Type 2: The most common form of diabetes. Either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells are unable to use the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use sugar/glucose for energy.

When people have too much sugar in their blood (a high blood sugar or blood glucose level), fluids are drawn out into the urine, causing frequent urination. This in turn can make people very thirsty. 

How Is Diabetes Managed?


Diabetes is a common disease, but it varies quite a bit from one person to another. Diabetes is sometimes pretty easy to manage and is sometimes very complicated. Some people need to stick very strictly to a diet and keep their activities consistent from day to day or they can become seriously ill. Other people can stray from their diet regularly without any trouble. All diabetics should check their blood sugar on a pre scheduled/ regular basis. The doctor or nurse can set up a monitoring plan for you to follow. 

  • Blood glucose monitoring: The main tool for checking how well diabetes is being controlled is to check blood sugar levels. Using a meter is the most accurate way to check. It is important to keep a log of the blood glucose results in order to review them with doctors. This should include time of day, time of last meal and any unusual physical activities or health problems at the time. Doctors have additional tests they use to check blood sugar. This usually requires a blood test.
  • Medications: There are two main types of medications for diabetes. Pills are used to lower the blood sugar levels in many people with Type 2 diabetes. Insulin is an injection that is used to lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes and sometimes Type 2 diabetes.
  • Diet and Exercise: Well-balanced meals in appropriate portions and consistent calories from day to day, as well as consistent daily exercise are important for diabetes management.

If diabetes is not well managed, the disease can lead to many problems such as: 

  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Poor circulation and sensation in arms and legs.
  • Blindness.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Slow and difficult wound healing.
  • Severe illness requiring hospitalization.
  • Foot ulcers, (diabetics should always wear socks and well fitting shoes) and any sores on their feet should be examined by a doctor or nurse.
  • Infections.

What Should I Be Alert For?


Symptoms of low blood sugar:

  • Dizziness.
  • Hunger.
  • Shakiness or trembling.
  • Confusion.
  • Sweating.
  • Weakness.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Fast treatment: Low blood sugar can be an emergency. Blood sugar can be raised quickly by drinking 4 oz of juice, eating a glucose tablet or other small sugary snack. Notify the doctor if blood sugar levels are frequently low. Nurses from local agencies or the community health center can show you how to test blood sugar, how to record the results and when to contact the doctor or nurse. Changes in diet, activity or health status can cause changes in blood sugar levels. Forgetting to eat after taking medications can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous. 

Symptoms of high blood sugar level:

  • Excessive thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Headaches.

Treatment: Unlike very low blood sugar, high blood sugar is not an emergency. However, the person’s doctor or nurse can give you instructions on the range of blood sugars that are acceptable and when the doctor or nurse would need to be notified.

Medication side effects: If a person is placed on a medicine (pill or insulin) for diabetes, ask the pharmacist or doctor about possible side effects of the medication and what you should look for and/or report. Each person will react differently to the medication, so two people on the same medication could react quite differently.

What Are Some Tips for Managing Diabetes?

  • Be sure that the person is eating a healthy, well-balanced and consistent diet and exercising or staying active daily.
  • Know how to use diabetic equipment and how to monitor blood sugars levels.
  • Know what range of blood sugar is acceptable for that person and when they tend to develop symptoms.
  • Be alert for signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and respond quickly, especially with low blood sugar.
  • Schedule regular appointments with a doctor to monitor the person’s eyes, feet, kidneys, heart and overall diabetes care plan.
  • Be particularly alert for symptoms of low blood sugar if the person has changed usual eating or exercise patterns or is ill.