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Health & Wellness

Diabetes care: 10 ways to help avoid complications

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Diabetes is a serious disease. Following your diabetes treatment plan takes round-the-clock commitment. But your efforts are worthwhile.

Careful diabetes care can reduce your risk of serious — even life-threatening — complications.

Here are 10 ways to take an active role in diabetes care and enjoy a healthier future.

1. Make a commitment to managing your diabetes

Members of your diabetes care team — doctor or primary care provider, diabetes nurse educator, and dietitian, for example — can help you learn the basics of diabetes care and offer support along the way. But it's up to you to manage your condition.

Learn all you can about diabetes. Make healthy eating and physical activity part of your daily routine. Maintain a healthy weight.

Monitor your blood sugar, and follow your doctor's instructions for managing your blood sugar level. Take your medications as directed by your doctor. Ask your diabetes treatment team for help when you need it.

2. Don't smoke

Smoking increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and the risk of various diabetes complications, including:

  • Reduced blood flow in the legs and feet, which can lead to infections, ulcers and possible removal of a body part by surgery (amputation)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Eye disease, which can lead to blindness
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney disease
  • Premature death

Talk to your doctor about ways to help you stop smoking or using other types of tobacco.

3. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control

Like diabetes, high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels. High cholesterol is a concern, too, since the damage is often worse and more rapid when you have diabetes. When these conditions team up, they can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other life-threatening conditions.

Eating a healthy, reduced-fat diet and exercising regularly can go a long way toward controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend taking prescription medication, if necessary.

4. Schedule regular physicals and eye exams

Schedule two to four diabetes checkups a year, in addition to your yearly physical and routine eye exams.

During the physical, your doctor will ask about your nutrition and activity level and look for any diabetes-related complications — including signs of kidney damage, nerve damage and heart disease — as well as screen for other medical problems.

Your eye care specialist will check for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.5. Keep your vaccines up to date

Diabetes makes it more likely you'll get certain illnesses. Routine vaccines can help prevent them. Ask your doctor about:

  • Flu vaccine. A yearly flu vaccine can help you stay healthy during flu season as well as prevent serious complications from the flu.
  • Pneumonia vaccine. Sometimes the pneumonia vaccine requires only one shot. If you have diabetes complications or you're age 65 or older, you may need a booster shot.
  • Hepatitis B vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for adults with diabetes who haven't previously received the vaccine and are younger than 60. If you're age 60 or older and have never received the hepatitis B vaccine, talk to your doctor about whether it's right for you.
  • Other vaccines. Stay up to date with your tetanus shot (usually given every 10 years). Your doctor may recommend other vaccines as well.

6. Take care of your teeth

Diabetes may leave you prone to gum infections. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss your teeth once a day and schedule dental exams at least twice a year. Call your dentist if your gums bleed or look red or swollen.

7. Pay attention to your feet

High blood sugar can reduce blood flow and damage the nerves in your feet. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can lead to serious infections. Diabetes can lead to pain, tingling or loss of sensation in your feet.

To prevent foot problems:

  • Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water. Avoid soaking your feet, as this can lead to dry skin.
  • Dry your feet gently, especially between the toes.
  • Moisturize your feet and ankles with lotion or petroleum jelly. Do not put oils or creams between your toes — the extra moisture can lead to infection.
  • Check your feet daily for calluses, blisters, sores, redness or swelling.
  • Consult your doctor if you have a sore or other foot problem that doesn't start to heal within a few days. If you have a foot ulcer — an open sore — see your doctor right away.
  • Don't go barefoot, indoors or outdoors.

8. Consider a daily aspirin

If you have diabetes and other cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking or high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend taking a low dose of aspirin every day to help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. If you don't have additional cardiovascular risk factors, the risk of bleeding from aspirin use likely outweighs any benefits of aspirin use. Ask your doctor whether daily aspirin therapy is appropriate for you, including which strength of aspirin would be best.

9. If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly

Alcohol can cause high or low blood sugar, depending on how much you drink and whether you eat at the same time. If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation, which means no more than one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than 65 and two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Always drink with a meal or snack, and remember to include the calories from any alcohol you drink in your daily calorie count. Also, be aware that alcohol can lead to low blood sugar later, especially for people who use insulin.

10. Take stress seriously

If you're stressed, it's easy to neglect your usual diabetes care routine. To manage your stress, set limits. Prioritize your tasks. Learn relaxation techniques.

Get plenty of sleep. And above all, stay positive. Diabetes care is within your control. If you're willing to do your part, diabetes won't stand in the way of an active, healthy life.

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