Like most chronic conditions, diabetes is a disease that–while serious–should not deprive you of a long and fulfilling life. With that said, you might be feeling overwhelmed at the vast amount of information there is to know about the condition. If this is you, fear not! This article will cover the Diabetes Basics…which is essentially what you need to know in order to gauge how well you are managing your diabetes.
In other articles, I will discuss how to eat successfully with diabetes by presenting two ways of meal planning (the Plate Method and Carb Counting). Together, you will be equipped with the skills you need to take control of your health once again.
Diabetes Basics: What to Know
When you hear the phrase, “controlling your diabetes,” what goes through your mind? To effectively manage diabetes and to keep it in control (both type I and II) means that you make active decisions to incorporate the necessary self-monitoring skills and healthy living habits into your daily life.
Important diabetes self-management skills include:
- Understanding what health indicators to monitor (“Diabetes A-B-C’s“)
- Following a healthy eating plan
- Checking your blood glucose
- Monitoring symptoms and knowing what to do and when
- Maintaining regular physical activity and a healthy weight
- Effectively managing stress and emotions
- Knowing what to do in the case of infections and illness
- Using your medications as prescribed
In this post, I will focus on the first item on the list: understanding your health indicators.
Knowing Your ABC’s
When it comes to knowing your diabetes basics, few things are more important to know than your “Diabetes ABC’s.” That’s because there are certain things that play a crucial role in determining whether your diabetes improves or worsens over time. These are known as the Diabetes A-B-C’s— the 3 health indicators that are essential for you to know and keep track of:
♦ A = A1c (Hemoglobin A1c….or HbA1c)
♦ B = Blood pressure
♦ C = Cholesterol
Now let’s talk a little bit about each of these, keeping in mind that the target numbers given here are general guidelines, and that your personal goal may be different depending on your circumstances and is something that should be determined between you and your doctor.
Your A1c Level
The A1c (also called “Hemoglobin A1c” or “HbA1c”) is a measure of how well your blood glucose (sugar) levels have been controlled over the past 3 months. The higher the number, the higher your everyday blood glucose levels have been. For most people with diabetes, the goal is to keep the A1c below 7%. However, levels lower than that may help your health even more, so your specific A1c goal should be something that is discussed between you and your doctor.
Average blood sugar over 3 months
Goal is 7% or lower
Small changes in your A1c number can make a huge difference in your future health and quality of life, because it determines your chances for getting serious diabetes-related complications—including heart damage, kidney disease, serious infections, and vision loss. For example, lowering your A1c level by just one percentage point can reduce your risk for serious complications by 30% to 35% and cut your risk of a heart attack by 18%. On the other side, each A1c percentage point above 7.0% doubles your risk of complications.
Wondering how your A1c number correlates with your actual blood glucose level? Simply refer to the chart.
Your Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is one of the most important health indicators there is, as your blood pressure can significantly affect your health—both in the short term and in the long term. When it comes to your diabetes, it is especially important for you to know where yours is at and to understand what it means.
For most people with diabetes, the recommended blood pressure target has generally been 140/90 mmHg or lower. However, this number can be very different (as low as 120/80) depending on your overall health status, so you should definitely check with your doctor if you don’t know what your individualized goal is.
Goal Blood Pressure
Lower than 140/90
(or your doctor’s recommended value)
I always recommend that people who have high blood pressure or diabetes to invest in a home digital blood pressure monitor and to check their blood pressure twice daily (in the morning and at night). Record your blood pressure values in a journal or a log and bring it with you to your health appointments. Believe me; your doctor will appreciate it!
Need a primer on the fundamentals of blood pressure or want tips on how to improve it naturally? This article will be helpful to you.
You should be (and probably already are) getting your cholesterol and triglycerides (‘blood fat’) levels checked about once a year. The goals for most people are as follows, but these numbers may also be modified based on your individual health profile and is something that your doctor would determine.
- LDL (bad cholesterol)
- → under 100 mg/dl
- → under 150 mg/dl
- HDL (good cholesterol)
- Men → above 40 mg/dl
- Women → above 50 mg/dl
Be sure to check out this important article on the essentials of cholesterol and ways to improve it.
Now you know the basics of diabetes. In a subsequent article, I discuss an easy Meal Planning method that will help guide you toward better health.
*The information presented in “Diabetes: What You Need to Know” can be found in Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.