Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020.

When you have type 2 diabetes, every day is an opportunity to take care of yourself and manage your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Managing your glucose levels can help you prevent many of the health issues that can accompany diabetes, like heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and eye problems.

An important first step in managing your diabetes is to make sure you take advantage of the expertise of your healthcare team. In most cases, this will include your doctor, a diabetes educator, and a registered dietitian or nutritionist. Together, they can work with you to create a plan for managing your diabetes.

This plan will usually include:1

  • Managing your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Taking your medicines as prescribed
  • Regularly checking your blood glucose levels
  • Working with your healthcare team
  • Coping with your diabetes in healthy ways

Also, if you smoke, you should quit. Smoking is especially harmful for people with diabetes, because both smoking and diabetes narrow your blood vessels. This increases your risk for many complications, including heart attack and stroke.1

Managing your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels

Keeping your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control is one of the most important things you can do to manage your diabetes. This will also reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other complications of diabetes.1

The A1C hemoglobin test is used to show your average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months. For many people, the A1C goal is below 7 percent. Higher A1C levels might be a sign that you need to change your diet, medicine, and/or activity level. However, your specific A1C goal may be different depending on your age, health conditions, and other factors. Talk to your doctor to find the A1C goal and treatment plan that is right for you.2,3

For most people with diabetes, blood pressure below 140/90 mm is the goal. Talk to your doctor about what your blood pressure target should be.1

If you have type 2 diabetes, you are at increased risk for heart disease, so it is important to keep your cholesterol levels in check. You have 2 kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”). High levels of bad cholesterol can cause a heart attack or stroke. However, good cholesterol helps remove bad cholesterol from your blood vessels. Your target cholesterol levels will depend on factors like your age, gender, and general health, so talk to your doctor about what is right for you.1,2

Eating a healthy diet

A healthy diet will help you manage your blood glucose levels, as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol. A diabetes-friendly diet includes foods like:1,2

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and whole grains
  • Chicken or turkey without the skin
  • Fish and lean meats
  • Nonfat or low-fat milk and cheeses

It is also important to drink plenty of water and choose foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and salt.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a certified diabetes educator who is also a dietitian. They can help you make healthy, easy changes to your diet and put together a food plan tailored to your needs and likes.

Getting regular physical activity

Regular physical activity is a powerful tool that benefits your health whether you have diabetes or not. However, for people with diabetes, regular physical activity is a must. The benefits of regular physical activity include cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, improved blood glucose control, decreased blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, and improved sense of well-being.

Regular physical activity means getting at least 30 minutes of brisk walking, swimming, or a similar activity 5 days a week. If you are not currently active, talk to your doctor about the kinds and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.1

Taking your medicines as prescribed

There are many different kinds of medicines that help people with diabetes control their blood glucose. A number of people with diabetes also take medicines to control their blood pressure and/or manage their cholesterol levels. You should always take your medicines as prescribed, even when you feel healthy or have hit your blood glucose goals. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any side effects or before making any changes. If you are having trouble affording your medicines, there are programs available to help you.

Regularly checking your blood glucose levels

Regularly checking your blood glucose levels is an important and necessary part of managing diabetes. This allows you to see whether your diabetes treatment plan is working.

Your doctor will monitor your blood glucose using hemoglobin A1C testing during office visits. Since this test shows you and your doctor what your blood glucose average is over 3 months, it is very helpful for monitoring how well your treatment plan is working. How often your doctor uses the A1C test depends on how well your blood glucose is being controlled, the medicine you are taking, and other factors.1

If you use insulin, your doctor will also have you self-monitor your blood glucose levels using a blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor. There are many different blood glucose monitoring systems on the market. Your choice of a monitoring system may be determined, in part, by your health insurance plan. However, your healthcare provider and your diabetes educator will be able to offer guidance and training in using your monitor. Your doctor will also help you figure out how often you should check your blood glucose levels.1

Working with your healthcare team

In most cases, you will need to see your healthcare team at least 2 times per year. If you are having health problems or trouble reaching your target blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, you will need to see your doctor more often.

At each visit, it is important to:1,3,4

  • Get your blood pressure checked
  • Have your feet examined, since foot complications are common in people with diabetes
  • Have your weight checked
  • Have your eyes examined, since diabetes can have both short- and long-term effects on the eyes
  • Discuss the medicines you are taking and whether you need to adjust them
  • If necessary, get your flu shot or pneumonia shot, since people with diabetes are at increased risk for the flu and pneumonia
  • Review your diabetes treatment plan

When you see your doctor, ask questions and discuss any concerns you have about your diabetes management, as well as your overall health and well-being.

Coping with your diabetes in healthy ways

It is normal to feel frustrated or stressed about your diabetes from time to time. Finding healthy ways to deal with the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of diabetes is an important part of your care plan.

Some of the things that can help you cope include:

  • Joining a diabetes education program or support group
  • Talking to a mental health counselor, friend, or family member about your feelings
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Making time for activities you enjoy, like gardening, yoga, or painting
  • Prioritizing your health by exercising, eating right, and following your treatment plan

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