While many people associate diabetes with children, it can occur in adults. In fact, type 2 diabetes typically develops in people over the age of 45, and one study found that 42% of type 1 diabetes occurs after the age of 30.
Receiving a diagnosis of diabetes can be hard. You may be working on advancing your career, raising children, or even starting a new chapter of your life. It may feel like your life is changing before your eyes. You may find yourself thinking, “I have diabetes. What do I do?”
Living with diabetes can be a journey and a lifestyle adjustment. By learning about diabetes and working with your healthcare team to create a management plan, you can effectively manage your diabetes and create long-lasting, healthy habits.
In people living with diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce insulin or the body doesn’t properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows your cells to absorb glucose from the blood and use it as energy. Glucose is the main source of fuel for your brain and body.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Here are the main differences to be aware of:
- Type 1 diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that results in the pancreas being unable to make insulin. Approximately 5–10% of people living with diabetes have type 1.
- Type 2 diabetes: With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas is able to produce insulin, but your body doesn’t use insulin effectively. Approximately 90–95% of people living with diabetes have type 2.
- Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in people without preexisting diabetes. It typically develops around the 24th week of pregnancy. Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes isn’t caused by insufficient insulin production. Instead, hormones produced during pregnancy have a blocking effect on insulin, making it less effective (insulin resistance).
Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, there are certain steps you must take each day to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range to protect your health and prevent serious health complications.
I Have Diabetes. What Do I Do?
If you have diabetes, you'll need to do a few things every day to keep your blood sugar in your target range. They include eating a diabetes-friendly diet, staying active, adhering to your treatment plan, and checking your blood sugar levels.
While there are general guidelines for each of these pillars of diabetes management, it’s important to work with your healthcare team to develop personalized diet, exercise, treatment, and blood sugar monitoring plans.
Eat a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
What you eat and drink has a big impact on your blood sugar levels. In general, you’ll want to avoid or limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, cholesterol, and sugar. Make sure you’re getting enough non-starchy vegetables and lean protein while limiting high-carb foods, which typically have the greatest impact on your blood sugar levels. Whether you’re cooking or eating out, try to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of it with lean protein, and a quarter of it with carbohydrates.
Food and Beverages
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If you prefer more structure in your diet, ask your healthcare team about working with a dietician to create a detailed diet plan.
Adhere to Your Treatment
If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need insulin therapy, as your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to control your blood sugar through diet and exercise; however, many (more than 30%) still need to take medications, such as insulin or blood sugar–lowering medications.
If your treatment plan involves insulin, your healthcare provider will likely give you the options of basal-only injections (once daily), multiple daily injections (MDI), or insulin pump therapy. MDI therapy can be done via a needle and syringe or an insulin pen. Both of these treatments work by mimicking the natural secretion of insulin by the body experienced by people without diabetes.
Along with your diet and medications, staying active is a key part of your diabetes management. Regular physical activity can help with weight management and glycemic control (blood sugar control) and provide many other mental and physical health benefits.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. For personalized guidance, talk with your healthcare team about creating a diabetes exercise plan that works for you.
Check Your Blood Sugar Regularly
Diet, exercise, stress, medications, illness, hormonal changes, sleep, smoking, alcohol consumption, and hydration levels can all affect your blood sugar levels. Therefore, it’s important to regularly check your blood sugar levels to prevent serious diabetes-related complications that can develop if your blood sugar is too low or too high.
Your healthcare team can provide guidance on how often to check and what your target blood sugar range should be before and after meals. Your healthcare team will likely recommend using a blood glucose monitor, or BGM. Standard BGMs typically come in a kit with a lancing device and lancets, test strips, and batteries. To check blood sugar levels, the general process is as follows:
- After washing and drying your hands, insert a test strip into the meter
- Use your lancing device and lancet to obtain a blood sample from one of your fingers
- Place the drop of blood on the test strip
- View your blood sugar level on the monitor’s display panel
When you have to test multiple times every day, this process can get a little tedious. But there are some newer technologies out there that aim to make managing diabetes easier. For example, an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM), such as the POGO Automatic® Monitor, allows for automatic lancing and blood collection with the press of a button.
Make Your Health a Priority
Being diagnosed with diabetes can be hard. It can feel like your whole life has changed in an instant. While managing diabetes can be overwhelming at first, it will get easier with time. It’s important to educate yourself and learn how to make diabetes management a priority to protect your health. Finding social support, taking part in a diabetes management program, and finding tools that support your daily care needs can give you the knowledge and resources you need to effectively manage your diabetes.
Robert Miller is a customer experience specialist committed to helping people navigate the world of diabetes. He focuses on finding innovative tools and strategies that make diabetes management easier to support long-term wellness.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.