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How to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes Complications

By Camille Peri
WebMD Feature

Having diabetes doesn't automatically put you on the road to complications like heart disease, stroke, or kidney failure. A healthy lifestyle, along with insulin treatments, can keep your risk for these conditions low.

"Complications are not inevitable," says Robert E. Ratner, MD, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.

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To reduce your risk, he says, take control of your:

  • Blood sugar
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cholesterol

Follow a simple daily care plan to help keep complications away:

Check Your Blood Sugar Levels

Daily finger sticks help you and your doctor see how well your blood sugar is controlled and make adjustments to manage it better.

  • Ask your doctor when and how often to check, and what your target numbers should be.
  • Keep a log with dates, times, and blood sugar numbers to share with your care team.
  • Learn what steps you can take to adjust your routine when blood sugar levels are off target.


Eat Right

Eating well can help you stay at a healthy weight, lose weight, or lower your cholesterol or blood pressure. A nutritionist or diabetes educator can help you create a meal plan that spreads carbohydrates throughout the day and works with your lifestyle.

Also try to:

  • Eat a wide variety of healthy foods and watch portion sizes.
  • Make vegetables half of every meal.
  • Keep healthy snacks handy, like celery and peanut butter, instead of junk food.
  • Consider prepackaged meals that tell you exactly how many calories you're eating.


Move Your Body

Regular exercise helps you control your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Exercise at least 30 minutes total a day, 5 days a week.

If you're not used to exercising:

Try brisk walks. "Even if you have bad arthritis or back pain, most people can walk 15 minutes twice a day," says Marjorie Cypress, PhD, RN, president of health care and education at the American Diabetes Association.

Find ways to fit in exercise. Maybe you can wake up 15 minutes earlier to walk in the morning and do another session on your lunch hour, for example. Or lift hand weights or march in place while you're watching TV.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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