Diabetes: How to Lower Your Risk of Complications

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 19, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

A healthy lifestyle, along with insulin treatments, can lower your risk for things like heart disease, stroke, or kidney failure.

To lower your risk, control your:

  • Blood sugar
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol

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

Check Your Blood Sugar

Sticking your finger each day can help you and your doctor see if your blood sugar is under control. Adjustments can be made to manage it better if it isn’t.

Ask your doctor when to check, how often, and what your target numbers should be.

Keep a log with dates, times, and blood sugar numbers to share with your care team. Ask what steps you can take to adjust your routine when your blood sugar levels are off-target.

Eat Right

Eating well can help you keep a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol or blood pressure. A nutritionist or diabetes educator can help you create a meal plan that fits with your lifestyle.

You should also:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods.
  • Watch portion sizes.
  • Make vegetables half of every meal.
  • Keep healthy snacks handy, like celery and peanut butter.

Move Your Body

Regular exercise helps control your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. You should exercise at least 30 minutes 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, former 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.

Don't Smoke

Smoking damages and tightens your blood vessels. It doubles your chance of heart disease and makes nerve damage and eye and kidney problems more likely. Your doctor can give you ways to quit.

Ease Stress

"When your body secretes adrenaline, which it does when you're stressed, your blood pressure and blood sugars go up," Cypress says.

Long-term stress can lead to long-term high blood sugar.

Cut out any sources of stress you can. Then carve out at least 15 minutes a day to do something that relaxes you. For example:

  • Meditate
  • Do deep breathing
  • Pray
  • Listen to music
  • Dance
  • Stretch
  • Volunteer
  • Enjoy a hobby or craft

Get Enough Sleep

Too little sleep raises your chances of weight gain and obesity. People who sleep for 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours also seem to have better control of their blood sugar.

Check Your Feet

High blood sugar can damage the nerves in your foot and cut blood flow in your feet. Foot sores that aren't treated can lead to serious infections. You may not feel them right away.

Check your feet daily, especially between the toes. Look for blisters, broken skin, or warm or red spots. If you have a wound, treat it right away and keep your eye on it. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor if things don’t get better or you see signs of infection.

Take Care of Your Mouth

Diabetes increases your chance of gum disease and infection. Brush well with a soft-bristled brush at least twice a day. You should also floss once or more each day.

Get Year-Round Care

At least twice a year, if your doctor advises it, you should:

  • Get an A1c test to measure your average blood sugar levels for the previous 2 or 3 months.
  • See your dentist for teeth cleaning and a checkup.

At least once a year, if your doctor advises it, you should get a:

  • Dilated eye exam
  • Regular physical exam
  • Cholesterol test
  • Microalbumin and creatinine test to check for kidney damage
  • Flu shot

Stay on top of other vaccines, like tetanus boosters and pneumonia shots, too. If you’re under age 60 and haven't had a hepatitis B vaccine, get one.

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association: "Checking Blood Glucose," "Stress," "Too Much or Too Little Sleep May Raise Your Blood Glucose Level and Expand Your Waistline," "Hepatitis B."

CDC: "New CDC data show declines in some diabetes-related complications among US adults."

Marjorie Cypress, PhD, RN, nurse practitioner and diabetes educator, Albuquerque, NM; president of health care & education, American Diabetes Association.

Harvard School of Public Health: "Sleep."

Joslin Diabetes Center: "6 Tips for Avoiding Complications From Diabetes," "Dental Health and Diabetes."

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: "Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke," "Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your mouth healthy," "Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your kidneys healthy," "Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your diabetes under control."

Robert E. Ratner, MD, chief scientific and medical officer, American Diabetes Association.

UpToDate: "Patient information: Preventing complications in diabetes mellitus (Beyond the Basics)."

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info