There is no cure for diabetes which means the condition has to be treated and managed for life. This can make a diagnosis seem very daunting. But you will not be alone. Nearly 3 million people are affected by diabetes in the UK and following a diagnosis you will be assigned to a diabetes care team who will support you along the way.
Following a diagnosis you may be told you need to monitor your blood glucose (sugar) levels regularly. This is usually done just before and two hours after your largest meal. If you are using insulin, you may need to do this up to four times a day. You can use a home blood glucose testing kit which involves pricking the side of your finger with a special device and testing the blood with a meter. Your care team adviser will explain how and when you need to do this and tell you what the readings mean.
The aim will be to keep your blood glucose levels as near to normal as possible - which for adults is usually between 3.5–5.5mmol/l before meals and less than 8mmol/l, 2 hours after meals.
Knowing your blood glucose pattern through frequent monitoring will allow you to enjoy your normal activities with increasing confidence.
If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes you will need to use insulin injections because your body is unable to produce insulin naturally. Insulin is given either using a syringe or injection pen and your diabetes nurse will teach you (and often also a relative) how to do this. You will learn when and how to inject, how to store insulin, how to dispose of needles and what to do if your glucose levels go too high or too low.
If you have type 2 diabetes you will be asked to make lifestyle changes including regular exercise and healthy eating. You may also require medication.
For both types of diabetes you will need to attend regular check-ups (usually every three months) with your diabetes care team. These are important. The team will carry out a ‘HbA1c test’ - which is a blood test to check if your blood glucose is stable and whether your treatment plan needs to be changed.
Why it’s important to manage diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes increase you risk of some diseases, including: heart disease, stroke, circulation problems, nerve damage, foot ulcers, blindness, kidney damage, skin lesions, muscle-wasting and damage to ligaments and joints and damage to breast tissue.
By adopting a healthy lifestyle, monitoring your blood glucose levels and sticking to your treatment regime you can minimise these risks.
Following a diagnosis it will be important to make the lifestyle changes advised by your doctor or diabetes care team. This will most likely include controlling your diet and taking regular exercise.
If you are overweight you should aim to lose a few pounds. You can confirm if you are overweight by measuring your body mass index (BMI). To do this divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres and then divide the answer by your height again. Ideal BMI is 18.5-25. If your BMI is between 25-29 you are ‘overweight’. If your BMI is between 30-40 you are ‘obese’.
A healthy diet is important for anyone with diabetes (particularly as type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity). A balanced diet should include: at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables per day, fibres such as wholegrain bread and rice, some milk and dairy products, some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein and should be low in fat, sugar and salt.
The best way to lose weight is to combine dieting with exercise. Build up slowly to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on at least five days of the week. Moderate intensity means that you are breathing slightly more than normal, but you can still comfortably talk as you exercise. Diabetes UK recommends taking at least 10,000 steps a day - which you can log using a pedometer.
Diabetes puts you at increased risk of nerve damage which most commonly affects the feet. You should check your feet daily for any signs of broken skin, discolouration or swelling and follow-up any concerns with your doctor. It is also worth seeing a private of NHS podiatrist annually for a check-up.
Given that diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular problems and other illnesses, it makes sense not to smoke. Smoking will massively increase the chances of future health problems. Your GP or pharmacist can tell you about local quit smoking services.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
Some studies have suggested cinnamon may improve blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes UK calls the findings ‘interesting’ but says more research is needed.
Because diabetes increases your risk of cardiovascular disease it is recommended to eat oily fish at least twice a week. Oily fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel, is known to be protective against cardiovascular disease.