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Living with Diabetes – what you need to know


Diabetic girl leading healthy lifestyle

Diabetes daily care

Whichever type of diabetes you have, it’s important you come to terms with it. Living with diabetes means you will need to take responsibility for your every day care. The more you understand your condition and how it affects you, the better you will be able to control it.

To help, here are the answers to questions frequently asked by people living with diabetes:

What level should my glucose be?

Much of living with diabetes involves keeping your blood sugar levels from going too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia). To do this, you’ll need to regularly check your levels.

Most diabetics can monitor their own blood sugar levels at home with one of the many blood glucose systems available.

A normal glucose level should be between 4-6mmol/l before meals and less than 7.8 mmol/l after meals. People with diabetes should aim for a reading of 4-7mmol/l before meals or during the day, and 5-9mmol/l 90 minutes after meals.

How often should I test my glucose level?

If you’re living with diabetes, you should test your blood glucose levels 3-4 times a day on average. It’s recommended that you test your levels before meals and then two hours afterwards, as this will indicate how the meal has affected your levels.

If you are ill, under stress or you have changed your diet or exercise levels then you should carry out additional glucose tests. Your doctor will help you to find a blood-glucose testing regime best suited for you.

Regular ketone checking is also important to prevent a potentially serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. If you have a severe lack of insulin then the body cannot use glucose for energy and harmful ketones can build up in the body. If not treated this can be life threatening. You can test for the presence of ketones at home with blood glucose monitors or with a urine test. You’ll find a range of approved glucose and ketone home tests here: Diabetes Home Tests

What are diabetes complications?

People living with diabetes are at a higher risk of other serious health complications. Many of these can be prevented or treated with diabetes management and self-care. It helps to know what to look out for so please read more here: Diabetes complications

What check-ups do I need (at home and at the doctor’s)?

To help you look after and control your diabetes you will have a team of people available including your GP, specialised nurses, consultants and dietitians. Your doctor will want you to have regular check-ups and it’s vital you attend. At these check ups your doctor will check your glucose levels, including a HbA1c test, to see how well your diabetes has been controlled over the previous months. If you have a high HbA1c level this means your blood glucose level has been consistently high over recent weeks and your diabetes treatment plan will need to be reviewed.

Your doctor will also want to check your blood pressure and weight. They may also check your cholesterol levels and kidney function, and carry out a feet and eye examination.

As diabetes can cause poor circulation and/or numbness in the feet, it is important you maintain good foot care and always wear comfortable shoes. Always check your feet at home. If you develop any ulcers, corns or calluses on your feet you should seek advice from your doctor or chiropodist. Don’t try to treat them yourself.

Checking urine for albumin is also an important part of diabetes management. Albumin is a protein that is present in the blood. There is normally only small amounts of albumin found in urine but, if the kidneys are not working properly, large amounts leak into urine. You can easily test for protein in urine at home with a test like these: Strip Tests

What exercise and diet plan should I follow?

If you are overweight, diabetes can be more difficult to control so you will need to watch what you eat and follow a healthy balanced diet. If you are living with diabetes, it is also important that you eat regular meals and include a wide variety of foods. You should limit the amount of salt you have, as too much salt can cause high blood pressure. You should also eat fewer fried, fatty, processed foods (to reduce your risk of high cholesterol) and reduce your intake of sweet foods.  It is recommended that you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, too.

Exercise is an important part of controlling blood glucose. Our muscles use glucose for energy so the more we use the more we improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise will also help you to maintain a healthy weight. You should aim for 150 minutes exercise per week.

Can I smoke and drink alcohol with diabetes?

If you smoke, you should take measures to give up, as smoking is particularly dangerous for diabetics.

You can drink alcohol but keep it in moderation. However, you should remember that alcohol lowers blood glucose and, if you are under the influence, you may be less aware of ‘hypo’ symptoms, which could put you in danger. If you do choose to drink, make sure you have a meal beforehand and snack while drinking. You should also have a bedtime snack and take an additional glucose test before going to bed.

Can I drive if I am diabetic?

If you have been taking insulin for diabetes for more than three months you must inform the DVLA. You will also need to inform them if any complications develop that could affect your driving ability. It is advised that you tell your insurance company, too.

Can I go on holiday?

Having diabetes should not stop you going on holiday but, depending on where you are going, planning ahead will help you to avoid any potential problems. Before you travel, make sure you have your medical ID and a letter from your GP stating the medication you are on. When planning your holiday you need to think about travel insurance, food and any medicines that may be required. Ensure you carry plenty of snacks and medical supplies when travelling, as you never know how long delays could be.

Will diabetes affect my employment?

It is unlawful for an employer to operate a blanket ban on recruitment of people with diabetes. Whilst you can’t describe your condition as a disability, the disability discrimination law will give you legal protection in the case of unfair treatment. It is advisable that you tell your employer you have diabetes so they can help you if require medical help.

If you have ‘insulin dependent diabetes’ there are a few jobs that carry restrictions. These include the army, police, ambulance service, fire service, pilot/cabin crew or any job that involves you carrying passengers.

How does diabetes affect pregnancy?

If you have diabetes and are planning on having a baby, you should discuss this with your GP or diabetes specialist to ensure your diabetes is in control. You will need to monitor your glucose levels closely during the first 8 weeks to reduce the risk of birth defects. You may also be advised to take a higher dose of folic acid. For more information on pregnancy and diabetes, read more on our Gestational Diabetes page.

How many people have diabetes?

Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have diabetes and the vast majority live a normal, healthy life.  It’s estimated that 5 million people will be diagnosed with diabetes by 2025.

Theresa May became the first world leader to announce they had Type 1 diabetes.  In an interview, Mrs May said: “I am a Type 1 diabetic. That means when I eat, I have to inject insulin, which I do. I will be injecting myself four or five times a day. You just get into a routine. You depend on that insulin and you just build that routine into your daily life. The crucial thing to me is being a diabetic doesn’t stop you from doing anything.”

Ex-Footballer, Gary Mabbutt, also has Type 1 diabetes and it never stopped him from reaching the top level of the game. He enjoyed a long career for Tottenham as their captain and also represented England on many occasions.

Hollywood actress, Halle Berry, also has Type 1 diabetes. Olympic gold medallist, Sir Steven Redgrave, and Hollywood actor, Tom Hanks, have Type 2 diabetes.

You are not alone.

If you found this interesting, you may also find out information pages useful:

Diabetes health information

Diabetes complications

Types of diabetes