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Learning the ABCDEs of Diabetes

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2024

Although getting a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be overwhelming, keep in mind that most people with this disease can continue to lead full and active lives. The key to leading a healthy life with diabetes is taking care of yourself.

Living with diabetes requires a proactive approach to managing your health. Understanding the ABCDEs of diabetes can empower you to take control of your health and well-being.

What are the ABCDEs of diabetes? They include:

  • A – A1C
  • B – Blood pressure
  • C – Cholesterol
  • D – Drugs (medicines)
  • E – Exercise
  • S – Smoking

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A – A1C

A crucial aspect of managing diabetes is monitoring your A1C levels. A1C is a blood test measuring average blood sugar levels over the past 2 to 3 months. It provides you with a snapshot of your overall diabetes management.1

Your A1C treatment goal or target will depend on individual factors, like your age and health status. In general, the higher your A1C, the greater your risk of developing complications with diabetes. For adults with diabetes, keeping A1C around or under 7 percent is ideal.1

You will need your A1C levels checked at least twice per year. Depending on your case, you may need A1C checks more often than that. Regular A1C checks help you and your healthcare team assess how well your treatment is working and if you need to make any changes. Learn more about A1C testing.1

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B – Blood pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) can make diabetes symptoms worse and increase your risk of certain complications like heart disease, stroke, vision loss, and kidney disease. A healthy resting blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg is generally considered a good target. However, talk to your doctor about what your target blood pressure should be, as different factors such as heart disease and age may affect what your target is. You may need to take hypertension medicine to keep your blood pressure in check.2-4

Regular monitoring, a low-salt diet, and daily physical activity can help maintain good blood pressure levels. Work with your doctor to develop a plan that works for you.2

C – Cholesterol

Understanding cholesterol is vital for those with diabetes. Cholesterol is a waxy substance (also called lipoprotein) that circulates in your bloodstream. There are 2 main types of cholesterol:5

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – Often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol causes plaque buildup in the arteries. This increases the risk of heart disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – Known as the “good” cholesterol, HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Generally speaking, you want your LDL cholesterol levels to be low and your HDL levels to be high. Diabetes can impact your LDL and HDL levels – raising the bad and lowering the good – causing a condition known as diabetic dyslipidemia.5

Talk with your doctor about what your target cholesterol levels should be. They can help you manage levels with lifestyle changes and medicine if needed.3,5

D – Drugs (medicines)

Managing diabetes may involve certain drugs to help control blood sugar levels. Your doctor may prescribe medicine taken by mouth, insulin, non-insulin injections, or a combination of all 3.6

Examples of non-insulin drugs that may be prescribed to you include:6

  • Metformin
  • Sulfonylureas such as glipizide and glyburide
  • Dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors such as sitagliptin (Januvia®) and linagliptin (Tradjenta®)
  • Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists such as semaglutide (Ozempic®, Rybelsus®) and liraglutide (Victoza®, Saxenda®)
  • Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors such as canagliflozin (Invokana®) and dapagliflozin (Farxiga®)

Take these medicines as directed by your doctor. Communicate with them about any concerns you may have or side effects. Regular follow-ups and changes to your medicines may be needed to manage your diabetes in the best way possible.6

E – Exercise

Physical activity is a cornerstone of diabetes management. Exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, lowers blood sugar levels, and promotes overall well-being. Find activities you enjoy to make exercise sustainable and fun.7

Experts recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This breaks down to about 30 minutes a day.7

If you are just getting started exercising, start slow and build from there. Moderate-intensity activities can include things like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, and more. And if you feel up to it, consider adding some strength training exercises a couple of days a week.7

S – Smoking

Smoking and diabetes are a dangerous combination. Smoking increases the risk of complications such as heart disease, stroke, and nerve damage.2,8

If you have diabetes, quitting smoking is one of the most impactful steps you can take to improve your health. Seek support from family, friends, or smoking cessation programs to help you kick the habit and reduce the risks associated with smoking and diabetes.2,7

You are not alone

By understanding the ABCDEs of diabetes, you can navigate the challenges of living with this condition and work toward better health. Lean on your support network and your healthcare team so you can take charge of your health and thrive despite having diabetes. Remember, you are not alone in this journey.