Diabetes — manage your symptoms and take control of your health

Odds are you or someone you know is living with diabetes.  More than 37 million adults in the United States have diabetes, and about 96 million have prediabetes.1 These statistics are not pretty, but the good news is that people can take steps to manage their diabetes and live a healthier life.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body turns food into energy.2 When you eat, your body breaks down the food into sugar, also known as glucose, that is released into the bloodstream. Your body then releases a hormone called insulin, which allows cells to turn glucose into energy.

When someone has diabetes, the body doesn't make enough insulin or is unable to use it correctly, leading to too much glucose remaining in the bloodstream. High sugar levels in the body are harmful and can cause permanent damage.

There are three types of diabetes — type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes which occurs during pregnancy. For this article, we'll focus on types 1 and 2.

Type 1 diabetes

This type of diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops your body from making insulin. Approximately 5% to 10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1.3

Type 2 diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't use insulin well and can't keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90% to 95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults.4

Is there a cure for diabetes?

Although there is no cure for diabetes, the condition can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Most people with diabetes manage their symptoms and bring their blood sugar levels to the target range with simple changes to their daily routines.

The ABCs of diabetes

If you want to take charge of your health, you should start by understanding the ABCs of diabetes:

A is for A1C test

The A1C test  — also known as the hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test — is a blood test performed at your doctor's office that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past three months. It does this by measuring the percentage of red blood cells with sugar-coated hemoglobin. For people with prediabetes or diabetes, the A1C measurement goal is below seven.

B is for blood pressure

Two of three people with diabetes report having high blood pressure or taking prescription medications to lower their blood pressure.5 This is because, over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.6

C is for cholesterol

People with diabetes are also more prone to having high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels measure a group of fats or lipoproteins (lipids) in your blood. These measurements include HDL-C, or "good" cholesterol, and LDL-C, or "bad" cholesterol. When "bad" cholesterol levels are too high, it can contribute to narrowed or blocked arteries.7

Lifestyle changes for diabetes management

Diabetes treatment depends on the type you have. Because type 1 diabetes causes the body to not produce insulin, it's treated with diet measuring, blood sugar monitoring, and insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes is managed with medication or insulin, healthy eating, and exercise.

Diabetes is managed primarily by you — what you do daily influences blood sugar levels and how your body reacts. That is why such a large part of diabetes management relies on diet and exercise.

Bite-sized changes in your diet

Healthy eating prevents the sugar in your blood from getting too high or too low. Here are some suggestions that can help you make the right choices in your diet:

  • Avoid sweets — try using a natural sugar substitute, such as stevia or monk fruit.
  • Choose lean proteins — such as chicken, fish, and turkey.
  • Eat more vegetables — add nutrients, minerals, and fiber to your diet.
  • Lower your carbohydrate intake — opt for whole-grain and high-fiber foods such as quinoa and oatmeal.
  • Mind your portions — don't overeat or undereat.
  • Stick to a schedule — don't skip meals.

Get active

Being more active can help you get your diabetes under control.8 Here are ways to add more physical activity into your routine:

  • Dance to your favorite music.
  • Engage in outdoor activities.
  • Join a gym or low-cost community exercise program. 
  • Take a walk.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

Make healthy choices

When it comes to lifestyle changes, even the small ones can have a significant impact. If necessary, try to:

  • Cut back on alcoholic drinks. 
  • Reduce stress. 
  • Stay at a healthy weight.9
  • Stop smoking. 
  • Take your medication as prescribed.

Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, we encourage you to learn as much as possible about the latest medical therapies and approaches, as well as healthy lifestyle choices you can make. It's a good idea to talk with your primary care doctor about your treatment options and ways to keep your blood sugar levels in target range.

Carelon Health offers Advanced Primary Care that can help you manage your diabetes and become a healthier version of yourself. Visit the Advanced Primary Care page to learn more.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Diabetes Statistics Report (accessed September 2023): cdc.gov.
2–4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What is Diabetes? (accessed September 2023): cdc.gov.
5 American Diabetes Association: Diabetes Complications - Diabetes and High Blood Pressure (accessed September 2023): diabetes.org.
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Diabetes and Your Heart (accessed September 2023): cdc.gov.
7 American Heart Association: Cholesterol and Diabetes (accessed September 2023): diabetes.org.
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Living with Diabetes: Get Active! (accessed September 2023): cdc.gov.
9 Talk to your doctor to determine your healthy weight before starting a diet or exercise plan.