How is Diabetes Managed?
Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, everyone with type 1 diabetes died within a few years after diagnosis. Although insulin is not considered a cure, its discovery was the first major breakthrough in diabetes treatment.
Today, healthy eating, physical activity, and taking insulin are the basic therapies for type 1 diabetes. The amount of insulin must be balanced with food intake and daily activities. Blood glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood glucose checking. People with diabetes also monitor blood glucose levels several times a year with a laboratory test called the A1C. Results of the A1C test reflect average blood glucose over a 2- to 3-month period.
Healthy eating, physical activity, and blood glucose testing are the basic management tools for type 2 diabetes. In addition, many people with type 2 diabetes require oral medication, insulin, or both to control their blood glucose levels.
Adults with diabetes are at high risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, at least 65 percent of those with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Managing diabetes is more than keeping blood glucose levels under control–it is also important to manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels through healthy eating, physical activity, and use of medications (if needed). By doing so, those with diabetes can lower their risk. Aspirin therapy, if recommended by the health care team, and smoking cessation can also help lower risk.
People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care. Much of the daily care involves keeping blood glucose levels from going too low or too high. When blood glucose levels drop too low–a condition known as hypoglycemia–a person can become nervous, shaky, and confused. Judgment can be impaired, and if blood glucose falls too low, fainting can occur.
A person can also become ill if blood glucose levels rise too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia.
People with diabetes should see a health care provider who will help them learn to manage their diabetes and who will monitor their diabetes control. Most people with diabetes get care from primary care physicians–internists, family practice doctors, or pediatricians. Often, having a team of providers can improve diabetes care. A team can include:
- a primary care provider such as an internist, a family practice doctor, or a pediatrician
- an endocrinologist (a specialist in diabetes care)
- a dietitian, a nurse, and other health care providers who are certified diabetes educators–experts in providing information about managing diabetes
- a podiatrist (for foot care)
- an ophthalmologist or an optometrist (for eye care)
and other health care providers, such as cardiologists and other specialists. In addition, the team for a pregnant woman with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes should include an obstetrician who specializes in caring for women with diabetes. The team can also include a pediatrician or a neonatologist with experience taking care of babies born to women with diabetes.
The goal of diabetes management is to keep levels of blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol as close to the normal range as safely possible. A major study, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), showed that keeping blood glucose levels close to normal reduces the risk of developing major complications of type 1 diabetes.
This 10-year study, completed in 1993, included 1,441 people with type 1 diabetes. The study compared the effect of two treatment approaches–intensive management and standard management–on the development and progression of eye, kidney, nerve, and cardiovascular complications of diabetes. Intensive treatment aimed to keep A1C levels as close to normal (6 percent) as possible. Researchers found that study participants who maintained lower levels of blood glucose through intensive management had significantly lower rates of these complications. More recently, a follow-up study of DCCT participants showed that the ability of intensive control to lower the complications of diabetes has persisted more than 10 years after the trial ended.
The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study, a European study completed in 1998, showed that intensive control of blood glucose and blood pressure reduced the risk of blindness, kidney disease, stroke, and heart attack in people with type 2 diabetes.