If you have type 1 diabetes, it's important to look after your own health and wellbeing, with support from those involved in your care.

Your diabetes care team

As type 1 diabetes is a long-term condition, you'll be in regular contact with your diabetes care team. Your GP or diabetes care team will also need to check your eyes, feet and nerves regularly because they can also be affected by diabetes.

You should also be tested regularly – at least once a year – to check how well your diabetes is being controlled over the long term.

A blood sample will be taken from your arm, and the HbA1c test will be carried out. It measures how much glucose is in the red blood cells, and gives your blood glucose levels for the previous two to three months.

Lifestyle changes hide

Healthy eating

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is very important if you have diabetes. However, you don't need to avoid certain food groups altogether.

You can have a varied diet and enjoy a wide range of foods as long as you eat regularly and make healthy choices.

You can make adaptations when cooking meals, such as reducing the amount of fatsalt and sugar you eat, and increasing the amount of fibre.

You don't need to completely exclude sugary and high-fat foods from your diet, but they should be limited.

The important thing in managing diabetes through your diet is to eat regularly and include starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta, as well as plenty of fruit and vegetables

If your diet is well balanced, you should be able to achieve a good level of health and maintain a healthy weight.

Read more about healthy recipes. Diabetes UK has more dietary advice and cooking tips.

Regular exercise

As physical activity lowers your blood glucose level, it's very important to exercise regularly if you have diabetes.

Like anyone else, you should aim to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

However, before starting a new activity, speak to your GP or diabetes care team first.

Exercise will affect your blood glucose level, so your care team may have to adjust your insulin treatment or diet to keep your blood glucose level steady.

Don't smoke

If you have diabetes, your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke, is increased.

As well as increasing this risk further, smoking also increases your risk of many other serious smoking-related conditions, such as lung cancer.

If you want to give up smoking, your GP can provide you with advice, support and treatment to help you quit.

Limit alcohol

If you have diabetes and decide to drink alcohol, avoid drinking more than the recommended daily amounts, and never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.

Depending on the amount you drink, alcohol can cause either high or low blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia).

Drinking alcohol may also affect your ability to carry out insulin treatment or blood glucose monitoring, so always be careful not to drink too much.

Men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. 

Vaccinations

People with long-term conditions are encouraged to get a flu jab each autumn to protect against flu (influenza).

A pneumoccocal vaccination, which protects against a serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia, is also recommended.

Look after your feet

If you have diabetes, you're at greater risk of developing problems with your feet, including foot ulcers and infections from minor cuts and grazes.

This is because diabetes is associated with poor blood circulation in the feet, and blood glucose can damage the nerves.

To prevent problems with your feet, keep your nails short and wash your feet daily using warm water.

Wear shoes that fit properly, and see foot care specialists (a podiatrist or chiropodist) regularly so any problems can be detected early.

Regularly check your feet for cuts, blisters or grazes as you may not be able to feel them if the nerves in your feet are damaged.

See your GP if you have a minor foot injury that doesn't start to heal within a few days.

Read more about feet and diabetes.

Regular eye tests

If you have type 1 diabetes, you should be invited to have your eyes screened once a year to check for diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition where the small blood vessels in your eye become damaged.

It can occur if your blood glucose level is too high for a long period of time (hyperglycaemia). Left untreated, retinopathy can eventually lead to sight loss.

Read more about diabetic eye screening.

People with diabetes should also see their optician every two years for a regular eye test. Diabetic eye screening is specifically for diabetic retinopathy and can't be relied upon for other conditions.

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Diabetes and pregnancy show

Pregnancy

If you have diabetes and you're thinking about having a baby, it's a good idea to discuss this with your diabetes care team.

Planning your pregnancy means you can ensure your blood glucose levels are as well controlled as they can be before you get pregnant.

You'll need to tightly control your blood glucose level – particularly before becoming pregnant and during the first eight weeks of your baby's development – to reduce the risk of birth defects.

You should also:

  • check your medications – some tablets used to treat diabetes may harm your baby, so you may have to switch to insulin injections
  • take a higher dose of folic acid tablets – folic acid helps prevent your baby developing spinal cord problems, and it's recommended all women planning to have a baby take folic acid; women with diabetes are advised to take 5mg each day (only available on prescription)
  • have your eyes checked – retinopathy, which affects the blood vessels in the eyes, is a risk for all people with diabetes; as pregnancy can place extra pressure on the small vessels in your eyes, it's important to treat retinopathy before you become pregnant

Your GP or diabetes care team can give you further advice.

Read more about diabetes and pregnancy.

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Talk to others show

Many people find it helpful to talk to others in a similar position, and you may find support from a group for people with diabetes.

Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others diagnosed with the condition. Visit Diabetes UK to find your local diabetes support group.

If you want to get in touch with a trained counsellor directly, you can call the Diabetes UK Helpline on 0345 123 2399 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm) or email helpline@diabetes.org.uk.

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Financial support and benefits  show

People with diabetes controlled by medication are entitled to free prescriptions and eye examinations.

Some people with diabetes may also be eligible for disability and incapacity benefits, depending on the impact the condition has on their lives.

The main groups likely to qualify for welfare benefits are children, the elderly, and those with learning disabilities, mental health difficulties or diabetes complications.

People over the age of 65 who are severely disabled may qualify for a type of disability benefit called Attendance Allowance.

Carers may also be entitled to some benefits, depending on their involvement in caring for the person with diabetes.

Your local Citizens Advice can check whether you're getting all the benefits you're entitled to. Your diabetes specialist nurse and Citizens Advice can also provide advice about filling in the forms.

Read more about care and support and benefits.

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Diabetes sick day rules show


If you need to take insulin to control your diabetes, you should have received instructions about looking after yourself when you're ill – known as your "sick day rules".

Contact your diabetes care team or GP for advice if you haven't received these.

The advice you're given will be specific to you, but some general measures that your sick day rules may include could be to:

  • keep taking your insulin – it's very important not to stop treatment when you're ill; your treatment plan may state whether you need to temporarily increase your dose
  • test your blood sugar level more often than usual – most people are advised to check the level at least four times a day
  • keep yourself well hydrated – make sure you drink plenty of sugar-free drinks
  • keep eating – eat solid food if you feel well enough to, or liquid carbohydrates such as milk, soup and yoghurt if this is easier
  • check your ketone levels if your blood sugar level is high

Seek advice from your diabetes care team or GP if your blood sugar or ketone level remains high after taking insulin, if:

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Children with diabetes

Parents describe how they deal with having a diabetic child, including daily routines such as insulin injections, and how children can live life to the full.

Media last reviewed: 29/05/2015

Next review due: 29/05/2017

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Page last reviewed: 05/09/2016

Next review due: 05/09/2018