Self-help: Living with Diabetes

People with diabetes mellitus can lead normal lives, and they can continue to exercise and to eat most foods. However, it is very important to eat a healthy diet, maintain fitness, and, if necessary, lose weight. Following a healthy lifestyle helps to minimize the risk of developing complications over time, including heart disease, circulatory problems, and kidney failure.

A healthy diet

For some people with diabetes, a healthy diet and weight loss are enough to keep blood glucose levels normal. Your diet should be high in complex carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta, and cereals, and low in fats, particularly fats of animal origin.

Complex carbohydrates

Rice, pasta, cereals, and other complex carbohydrates are the basis of a healthy diet.

Drinking and smoking

Alcohol in moderation is safe for most people, but in excess it may lower blood glucose levels. In addition, it is high in calories and may cause weight gain. Smoking is very harmful because it greatly increases the risk of long-term complications, such as heart disease and stroke.

Cigarettes and alcohol

If you have diabetes and smoke, you should stop. If you drink alcohol, you can continue to do so, but you should make sure that you drink in moderation.

Your medical checkup

When you have just been diagnosed with diabetes you will be given a full medical examination, including measurements of your blood glucose, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure levels, height and weight measurement, an eye and foot examination, and blood and urine tests to check kidney, thyroid, and liver functions. Then every year you will have a medical review in which these checks are repeated to assess how well your blood glucose level is being controlled, and to look for any signs of complications.

Eye examination

Inspection of the retina (the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye) can detect retinal damage caused by diabetes.

Blood pressure measurement

People with diabetes mellitus have an increased risk of high blood pressure, and regular monitoring is important.

Special care for your feet

Diabetes can increase the risk of skin infections and ulcers on the feet. You can reduce the risk by wearing shoes that fit comfortably, visiting a chiropodist regularly, not walking barefoot, and cutting your toenails straight across. You should inspect and clean your feet daily and consult your doctor promptly if you develop a sore on your foot.

Foot care

Wash and dry your feet carefully. If the skin is dry, use a moisturizer every day.

Exercise and sports

Regular exercise makes you feel healthier, reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, and can help if you need to lose weight. If you have type 1 diabetes, you may need to monitor your blood glucose before, during, and after exercise to check how the activity affects your requirements for both insulin and food.

Strenuous exercise

Blood glucose levels usually drop during strenuous exercise. You may need to adjust your dose of insulin or eat more before strenuous activity.

Moderate exercise

Regular moderate exercise reduces the chance of developing coronary artery disease and may improve the control of your diabetes.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top