What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a complex and serious disease and managing it every day can be challenging. To help you, diabetes care and education specialists have developed seven key areas to focus on. A diabetes care and education specialist at Suburban Wellness Group can also help you set priorities and coach you on each of these areas. Generally speaking, people with diabetes must make healthy food choices, stay physically active, monitor blood sugar and take medications as prescribed. It is especially important for individuals with diabetes to talk with their diabetes care team on a regular basis to keep abreast of new developments, reduce risks for complications and cope with lifestyle changes.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body uses food. Most of the food you eat changes into glucose, or sugar, for your body to use as energy. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin, which helps sugar get into the body’s cells. The cells use sugar for energy. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or it can’t use the insulin that it makes. This causes you to have high blood sugar.

There are two types of diabetes-type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t make insulin. This type of diabetes often develops before age 30. Most people with diabetes have type 2, which usually develops in adults over age 40. With type 2 diabetes, the body still makes insulin but the cells can’t use it. The cause of diabetes isn’t known, but you may be more likely to have it if someone else in your family does.

Testing for Diabetes

Your healthcare provider will look for certain well-known symptoms known as the “diabetes alert.” These include the need to urinate often, extreme thirst or hunger, blurry vision, sores that won’t heal, weakness and fatigue. Your physician will likely order one or more tests, which may include the following: Urinalysis to look for sugar in your urine; Fasting plasma glucose test to measures the sugar level in your blood; Random (nonfasting) plasma glucose test to measure the amount of sugar in your blood; and an  Oral glucose tolerance test which requires fasting for 8 hours followed by drinking a sugary beverage.

If the testing results in a finding that you do have diabetes, a treatment plan provided by your physician will be the next step. Diet and lifestyle changes will likely be the first recommendation to help keep your blood sugar at a normal level and prevent other problems, such as blindness and kidney damage. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe. Some people with diabetes will need to inject insulin if the dietary changes don’t control their blood sugar level.

Your healthcare provider may tell you to check your blood sugar level at home using a blood sugar meter. He or she will let you know when and how often to check and what your level should be. You will want to keep a daily record of your levels. If they’re too high or too low, let your healthcare provider know.

Possible Complications

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can occur in people taking medications for diabetes. Severe hypoglycemia can be dangerous because you may pass out. Signs to watch out for are feeling dizzy, nervous, weak, and shaky. You may also sweat, feel sleepy, confused, or hungry, or have trouble speaking. If your blood sugar level is 70 mg/dL or lower, eating or drinking any of these foods can help: one-half cup (4 ounces) of any fruit juice; one-half cup (4 ounces) of a regular (not diet) soft drink; one cup (8 ounces) of milk; one or two crackers; five or six pieces of hard candy; one or two teaspoons of sugar or honey. You can check your blood sugar level again after about 15 minutes, and if it’s still too low, have another serving. You should always carry one of these foods with you.

Another possible complication of diabetes is hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar. It can cause poor vision, slow-healing cuts and sores, vaginal and skin infections, and nerve damage. Early signs include increased thirst, headaches, trouble concentrating, blurred vision, frequent urination, weight loss, and feeling weak and tired.

To keep your diabetes under control, the American Association of Diabetes Educators recommends the following:

AADE7 Self-Care Behaviors®

Healthy Eating

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods or stop eating in restaurants. In fact, there is nothing you can’t eat. But you need to know that the foods you eat affect your blood sugar.

Being Active

Being active not just about losing weight. It has many health benefits like lowering cholesterol, improving blood pressure, lowering stress and anxiety, and improving your mood. If you have diabetes, physical activity can also help keep your blood sugar levels to normal and help you keep your diabetes in control.

Exercise Regularly

A balanced program of exercise and rest can help keep your blood sugar level stable. Check your blood sugar level before and after exercise. Always carry a carbohydrate snack (like crackers) to eat if you feel weak.


Checking your blood sugar levels regularly gives you vital information about your diabetes management. Monitoring helps you know when your blood sugar levels are on target and it helps you make food and activity adjustments so that your body can perform at its best.

Taking Medication

There are several types of medications that are often recommended for people with diabetes. Insulin, pills that lower your blood sugar, aspirin, blood pressure medication, cholesterol-lowering medication, or a number of others may work together to lower your blood sugar levels, reduce your risk of complications and help you feel better.

Problem Solving

Everyone encounters problems with their diabetes control; you can’t plan for every situation you may face. However, there are some problem-solving skills that can help you prepare for the unexpected — and make a plan for dealing with similar problems in the future.

Reducing Risks

Having diabetes puts you at a higher risk for developing other health problems. However, if you understand the risks, you can take steps now to lower your chance of diabetes-related complications.

Healthy Coping

Diabetes can affect your physically and emotionally. It’s natural to have mixed feelings about your diabetes management and experience highs and lows. The important thing is to recognize these emotions as normal but take steps to reduce the negative impact they can have on your self-care.

Stop Smoking

Besides raising your blood sugar level, smoking also damages your heart and kidneys.

Additional Tips to Help Prevent Health Problems

Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes can damage your eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart, and cause erectile dysfunction in men. To avoid these complications:

  • Take your medicine as prescribed. If you have unpleasant side effects, contact your healthcare provider.
  • Have a complete eye exam once a year. Controlling your blood sugar level can prevent damage to your eyes.
  • Take care of your teeth. People with diabetes have a higher risk of cavities and gum disease. Have regular checkups, brush after every meal, and floss daily.
  • Protect your skin. Inspect your skin daily for dryness, cuts, redness, or any changes. Drink plenty of water (unless your healthcare provider wants you to limit fluids).
  • Check your feet. Because diabetes may damage nerves in your feet, you may not feel small cuts and bruises. Check your feet every day for sores. If you feel any numbness, tingling, or burning in your feet, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly and never go barefoot.
  • Keep an eye on your blood pressure and weight. Your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure at each visit; 130/80 or less is best.
  • Watch your blood cholesterol level. Have it checked once a year. Your total cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dL.
  • Find support. Your healthcare provider can tell you about diabetes support groups in your area so you can get tips for living with diabetes.

Suburban Wellness Group is committed to ensuring you receive the help and information needed to better manage your health. Call 973-483-2277 to get in touch with our healthcare team with any questions and/or concerns you may have.

Sources: (1) LPN2009, March/April 2009, Volume :5 Number 2 , page 26 – 27 | Authors: Gattullo, Barbara Ann RN, ANP-BC, CDE, MS; Edelman, Maryann RN, CNS, MS; (2) 2019 American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Suburban Wellness Group is committed to ensuring you receive the help and information needed to better manage your health. Call 973-483-2277 to get in touch with our healthcare team with any questions and/or concerns you may have or schedule your appointment by clicking below.

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All information presented in this website is intended for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of rendering medical advice. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.