Living with type 2 diabetes 

Type 2 diabetes - looking after yourself 

If you have type 2 diabetes, you will need to look after your health very carefully.

Caring for your health will make treating your diabetes easier and minimise your risk of developing complications of diabetes.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life. It means you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with support from those involved in your care.

Self care includes things you do each day to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and effectively deal with minor ailments and long-term conditions.

People living with long-term conditions can benefit enormously if they receive self care support. They can live longer, experience less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and be more active and independent.

Read more about self care.

Regular reviews

As type 2 diabetes is a long-term condition, you will be in regular contact with your diabetes care team. Developing a good relationship with the team will enable you to freely discuss your symptoms or any concerns you have.

The more the team knows, the more they can help you. 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.

HbA1c test

You should be tested each year to see how well your diabetes is being controlled over the long-term.

A blood sample will be taken from your arm and a test known as the HbA1c test carried out. It measures how much glucose is in the red blood cells, and gives your blood glucose levels for the previous 2-3 months.

The HbA1c target for most people with diabetes is below 48 mmol/mol. There's evidence to show that this level can reduce the risk of complications, such as nerve damage, eye disease, kidney disease and heart disease.

An HbA1c of less than 58 mmol/mol is recommended for those at risk of severe hypoglycaemia (an abnormally low level of blood glucose).

The Diabetes UK website has more information about the HbA1c test.

Healthy eating

It is not true that if you have diabetes you will need to eat a special diet. You should eat a healthy diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in fat, salt and sugar.

Different foods will affect you in different ways, so it is important to know what to eat and when to get the right amount of glucose for the insulin you are taking. A diabetes dietitian can help you work out a dietary plan that can be adapted to your specific needs. Read more about healthy eating.

Regular exercise

As physical activity lowers your blood glucose level, it is 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.

As exercise will affect your blood glucose level, you and your care team may have to adjust your insulin treatment or diet to keep your blood glucose level steady.

Do not 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 will be able to provide you with advice, support and treatment to help you quit.

Limit alcohol

If you have diabetes and you decide to drink alcohol, avoid drinking more than the recommended daily amounts (see below), 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. The recommended daily alcohol limit is 3-4 units for men and 2-3 units for women.

Keeping well

People with a long-term condition, such as type 2 diabetes, 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.

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Look after your feet hide

Having diabetes means you are more likely to develop 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 in your feet.

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 a podiatrist or chiropodist (a specialist in foot care) regularly so any problems are detected early.

Regularly check your feet for cuts, blisters or grazes because 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 does not start to heal within a few days.

Read more about feet and diabetes.

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Regular eye tests show

If you have type 2 diabetes, you should have your eyes tested at least once a year to check for retinopathy.

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). If left untreated, retinopathy can eventually cause blindness.

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Pregnancy  show

If you have diabetes and are thinking about having a baby, it is 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 will need to keep your blood glucose under tight control, 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 type 2 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 from developing spinal cord problems. It is now recommended that 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 is important to treat retinopathy before you become pregnant.

Your GP or diabetes care team can give you further advice. Diabetes UK also provides useful information to help you get your pregnancy off to a healthy start.

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Get educated show

You will be best equipped to manage your diabetes day-to-day if you are given information and education when you are diagnosed and on an ongoing basis.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends all people who have diabetes should be offered a structured patient education programme, providing information and education to help them care for themselves.

Structured patient education

Structured patient education means there is a planned course that:

  • covers all aspects of diabetes
  • is flexible in content
  • is relevant to a person’s clinical and psychological needs
  • is adaptable to a person’s educational and cultural background

For type 2 diabetes, there is a national patient education programme that meets all the key criteria for structured education. It is called the DESMOND programme (Diabetes Education and Self Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed).

There are also several local adult education programmes, many of which are working towards the criteria for structured education. Ask your diabetes care team about the adult education programmes they provide.

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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.

To find your local diabetes support group, visit the Diabetes UK website. If you want to get in touch with a trained counsellor directly, you can call the Diabetes UK’s care line on 0845 120 2960 or email careline@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 that the condition has on their lives.

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

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

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

Your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau can check whether you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to. They, as well as your diabetes specialist nurse, should also be able to provide advice about filling in the forms.

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Page last reviewed: 24/07/2012

Next review due: 24/07/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

DaiB said on 05 March 2012

I might question the 'Eat Healthily' advice. Many T2s find that keeping carbohydrates at a sensibly, but not excessively, low level is important in blood sugar control; it's not just about sugar as carbs end-up as glucose in the body. NHS advice to base all meals around carbs is very dated and I would question what research the advice is based on?

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