Updated 16 February 2017

I've got diabetes: what now?

How to deal with a diagnosis of diabetes and a summary of all the important points about high blood sugar.

Being diagnosed with diabetes can come as a shock and may take some adjustment, but it's important to remember that although this is a serious, chronic disease, it is also highly manageable – millions of people with well-controlled diabetes live full, active lives.

Besides making healthy lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, following a healthy diet and going for regular medical checkups – things everyone should be doing in any case - you should also be especially diligent about taking care of yourself.

In some cases of pre-diabetes, or diabetes diagnosed early, it may be possible to get blood sugar levels down to normal with lifestyle changes alone.

However, most people with diabetes will eventually need medications, either in pill form or as injections, and sometimes both, to regulate their blood sugar and prevent or treat complications of the disease. Your medication regimen may well change over time as the diseases progresses and you may need to change or add medications, or start insulin injections.

Work with your doctor

It is vital to work closely with your doctor to monitor your diabetes and to follow treatment instructions very carefully.

An extremely important aspect of diabetes management is monitoring your blood glucose frequently to know how food, activity and medications are affecting its levels, and to make sure it isn't getting too high or low. Your doctor will perform regular checkups and tests, but he/she may also want you to start checking your blood glucose at home: this is usually done with a small machine called a blood glucose meter.

Keeping your blood glucose under control is essential for reducing the risk of long-term complications such as heart disease, but it also helps avoid acute (sudden) complications: a dangerously high blood glucose reading can indicate a medical emergency: it may lead to a coma if not treated promptly. Less often in type 2 diabetes, medications may cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low, which can also lead to a coma.

Diabetes: take charge

  • Diabetes is a condition in which the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood is too high. Left untreated, high blood sugar can seriously damage various organs and raise risk for heart disease.

  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, typically developing in people over 35 who are overweight and inactive.

  • High blood glucose is called “hyperglycaemia”; low blood glucose is called "hypoglycaemia".

  • Pre-diabetes means that blood glucose levels are above normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes often go on to develop diabetes.

  • Classic symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, increased hunger or thirst, weight loss, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, fatigue, skin problems, slow-healing sores and frequent infections. However there may be no obvious symptoms.

  • The only way to know for sure if you have high blood sugar is to have it tested: by age 40-45 or earlier if you have risk factors.

  • The normal range for a fasting blood glucose test is 70 to 99 mg/dL (3.9 to 5.5 mmol/L).

  • Risk factors for diabetes include: being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, family history of diabetes, having developed diabetes during pregnancy, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.

  • Chronic complications of diabetes include: heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems; kidney disease; nerve damage; infections and problems in pregnancy. People with diabetes are also at risk of a diabetic coma.

  • Healthy lifestyle changes are extremely important in helping to prevent diabetes and manage it once it has been diagnosed. These include: getting regular medical tests and checkups; keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control; getting regular exercise; maintaining a healthy weight; following a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables; avoiding foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugar and salt; limiting alcohol intake; stopping smoking and managing stress levels.


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Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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