Whether you’re caring for someone living with diabetes or have diabetes, it’s important to understand the chronic illness and how to manage it to avoid complications.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose, explains Dr Muideen Bello.
“Hyperglycaemia, also called raised blood glucose or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.”
Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. The good news is that diabetes can be treated, and its consequences avoided or delayed with a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight, avoiding smoking, taking your medication and regular screening and treatment for complications.
How to manage diabetes
Three ways you or your loved ones can better manage diabetes:
Build healthy habits
Receiving a diagnosis of diabetes can be overwhelming, but you’re not alone. Even though reducing your sugar intake is a key factor, it is important to also focus on living an overall healthy lifestyle, limiting the intake of foods high in salt and fat, smoke cessation and avoiding alcohol abuse, says Delf dietitian Tanja Venter.
Venter says a healthy diet together with the appropriate use of medications and being physically active is the best way to control your diabetes.
She shares six tips for healthy living:
- The power of three: Eat three balanced meals per day with healthy snacks in between. Include carbohydrates high in fibre like whole wheat bread, oats, barley, beans, and lentils. Reduce oil and fat intake.
- Keep it steamy: Choose healthier cooking methods like steaming.
- Cut down on fat: Try to cut off all visible fat from all meats before cooking and remove the skin from your chicken before cooking.
- Fruit is king: Eat fruit and vegetables daily. Your vegetables should contribute to at least half of your plate. Be mindful of portion sizes.
- Sugar-free: Water is always the best drink option and should be increased to at least 8 glasses per day.
- Get moving: Exercise 30-45 min, three to four times per week.
Take your medication regularly
It is important to take your medication provided when you have diabetes, says Bello.
“Taking the medication as prescribed means making efforts to achieve treatment goals which includes the prevention of complications. It will help you to stay healthy. The medication available includes oral agents and injectables (insulin).”
Be consistent with those clinic appointments
Routine check-ups are important to help you manage your diabetes, Bello adds.
“Diabetic patients should visit their local clinic or local doctor often and this depends on how well-controlled their blood sugar is.”
“Diabetics with well-controlled blood sugar can visit their clinic or doctor twice a year or every six months. Those with poorly-controlled blood sugar will need to visit their clinic or doctor more frequently depending on the attending clinician. Some may need to be seen monthly or every second month. People living with comorbidities, such as hypertension, may also have frequent visits depending on how controlled these comorbidities are.
Bello further encourages regular visits as advised by your local healthcare worker. “If you have missed an appointment, it is important to make a new appointment as soon as possible to protect your health.”
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to get your blood sugar tested at your clinic if you display any symptoms for diabetes. According to the World Health Organization you should watch out for these symptoms:
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes: Include the need to urinate often, thirst, constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.
Symptoms for type 2 diabetes: These are generally similar to those of type 1 diabetes but are often less marked. As a result, the disease may be diagnosed several years after onset after complications have already arisen. For this reason, it is important to be aware of risk factors.
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