Diabetes is a lifelong condition. If it's poorly managed and blood glucose levels aren't controlled, diabetes increases the risk of serious complications such as problems with vision or blindness, heart attack or stroke, kidney failure, circulatory problems and impotence in men.
With good control of your diabetes, many of these complications can be prevented or slowed down.
Long-term risks and complications can be minimised by:
- learning as much as you can about diabetes
- having good medical care – make sure to have your regular check-ups with your doctor or nurse so that potential problems can be found and treated early
- having a healthy food plan and a regular intake of carbohydrates both for growth and development and to balance insulin and activity levels
- getting regular exercise and understanding how physical activity affects blood glucose levels
- watching your cholesterol and blood pressure
- generally having a healthy lifestyle.
Managing low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia)
Although people with type 1 diabetes are trying to keep their blood glucose level from going too high, it's also important to stop it going too low (hypoglycaemia). This can happen when too much insulin is injected or not enough of the right food is eaten at the right time.
Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include sweating, shakiness and light-headedness, and can lead to unconsciousness if not treated. Low blood glucose must be raised urgently, with quick-acting carbohydrate such as glucose tablets (or glucagon injections if the person is unconscious).
Blood glucose testing
To test your blood glucose level throughout the day, you use a small finger prick test to get a drop of blood to put onto a testing strip. The testing strip is inserted into a blood glucose meter and gives a result within seconds. Read more about blood glucose testing for type 1 diabetes.
- A normal reading is between 4–7 mmol/L (glucose is measured in millimoles per litre of blood).
- Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist what your target level should be.
- If the level is below 4 mmol/L, you will usually need to eat something.
- If the level is above 7 mmol/L, you may need to alter your insulin dose or do something active.
- Learning how to balance these levels with what you eat, how much insulin you give yourself and your activity levels are the key to managing your diabetes.
- For some people, blood glucose monitoring with a continuous glucose monitoring device may be an option. However this is not currently funded in Aotearoa New Zealand. Read more about continuous glucose monitoring(external link).
Healthy eating and exercise
What you eat and how much exercise you do affects your blood glucose levels. The more you eat and the less you exercise, the higher your blood-glucose levels will be and the more insulin you will need. Learning how to fine-tune your insulin doses with different meal sizes and activity levels is part of managing type 1 diabetes.
To help give you more even blood glucose levels:
- Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times of the day, with snacks in between as advised by your dietitian or nurse.
- Eat healthy, balanced meals with a range of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Read more about healthy eating.
- Choose high fibre carbohydrates, eg, wholegrain breads (breads with lots of grainy bits), high-fibre breakfast cereals, legumes, fruit and vegetables and those with a low glycaemic index (GI). Carbohydrate foods with a low GI are digested (broken down to glucose) more slowly.
- Exercise regularly.
Stress management and illness with diabetes
Managing stress is especially important. Blood glucose levels are more difficult to control if you are under stress, so you may need to monitor them more frequently.
- Make sure you know what to do when unwell and have a ‘sick day’ plan.
- If you are vomiting or have diarrhoea, see a doctor as you are at higher risk of becoming dehydrated.
Read more about diabetes and sick day planning.