What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. There are different types of diabetes, two of them include Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes. Treatment goals are to keep blood sugar in normal amounts through what you eat and taking medicines.

Diabetes and Your Body

If you have diabetes, you have a lot to think about. You also have a lot of control over how you feel and what you do each day to keep your body as healthy as possible. 

Your Risks for Heart Attack or Stroke

Because diabetes can affect your heart, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels, you are at a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke than someone who doesn't have diabetes. If you smoke, have high blood pressure, or have cholesterol problems, your risk for a heart attack or stroke is even higher. 

Your everyday choices can reduce your risks. The first step is to identify your risk factors so you can take action. Risk factors include: 

  • High blood pressure 
  • High LDL “bad” cholesterol 
  • High triglycerides
  • Being overweight or obese 
  • Unhealthy eating 
  • Low levels of physical activity 
  • Diabetes or unmanaged blood glucose 
  • Smoking

Monitoring Blood Glucose

It is normal for your blood glucose levels to change during the day and night based on what and when you eat, how active you are, and other things like illness and stress.  

Monitoring Your Glucose

Keeping your blood glucose levels in the target range allows you to feel better in the short term. You might notice:  

  • More energy 
  • Less thirst 
  • Fewer trips to the bathroom  
  • Faster wound healing and fewer infections 
  • Clearer thinking  

When your blood glucose is in your target range, you will also have less risk for long-term problems such as:  

  • Eye problems that can lead to blindness 
  • Nerve damage that leads to pain, tingling, or numbness in your hands and feet  
  • Damage to your kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure and dialysis 
  • Problems with your teeth and gums  

Monitoring your blood glucose at specific times helps you learn how your treatment plan is working. You and your healthcare provider will discuss what target levels are best for you. Tracking your blood glucose, food intake, and activity can help you manage your diabetes. Learn how to check your blood glucose with a standard blood glucose meter. Each meter is a bit different, so follow the directions for the meter you are using. 

Checking Your Glucose

  1. Wash and dry your hands. 
  2. Insert a test strip into your meter.
  3. Use your lancing device on the side of your finger to get a drop of blood. 
  4. Touch and hold the edge of the test strip to the drop of blood. 
  5. Your result will be shown on your meter. 
  6. Write down your results or download them from your meter. Note any reason that the result is different than you expected. Talk about your results with your nurse or doctor. 

Things that Make Glucose Go Up or Down 

  • Amount and types of food you eat
  • When you eat 
  • Physical activity 
  • Stress 
  • Medicine 
  • Illness 
  • Alcohol 

Blood Glucose Levels

Low blood glucose, also called hypoglycemia, is a reading of 70 mg/dL or lower. It is serious and requires quick action. Symptoms include: 

  • Shakiness 
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sweating 
  • Confusion 
  • Fast heartbeat 
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness 
  • Hunger 
  • Blurry or impaired vision 
  • Headaches 
  • Weakness or fatigue 

If your blood glucose is low, follow the Rule of 15: 

  1. Take 15 grams of fast-acting glucose/carbohydrate 
  2. Wait 15 minutes and re-check
  3. If glucose is less than 70, repeat steps 1 and 2 
  4. When blood glucose 80 or above, eat a meal or snack 

Sources of 15 grams of carbohydrate: 

  • 3 to 4 glucose tablets 
  • Glucose gel tube 
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) of juice or regular soda (not diet) 
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey 
  • Hard candies, jellybeans, or gumdrops—see food label for how many to eat 

If you have 2 to 3 episodes of low blood glucose, talk with your healthcare team about why it happens. They can suggest ways to avoid low blood glucose in the future. 

Diabetes and Medicine

Along with healthy eating and being active, most people with diabetes need some type of medicine to manage their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. 

Managing Diabetes

Your diabetes medicines work to lower your blood glucose. You may take more than one medicine because each works in a different way. To get the most from your treatment plan, learn how each medicine works, why you are taking it, and possible side effects.  

It is important to take all of your medicines as they are prescribed. Not taking them correctly can put you at risk for serious problems. If you have any questions, any unusual symptoms, or are having problems paying for or taking your medicines, talk to your nurse, doctor, or pharmacist. Keep a list of all your medicines and supplements. Review the list with your nurse or doctor at each visit.  


  • Take the right amount of each medicine at the right time 
  • Learn how each of my medicines works 
  • Learn about side effects 
  • Plan for refills so you won’t run out of medicines or supplies
  • Let my nurse or doctor know what questions I have 
  • Share any concerns I have about being able to pay for medicines 

Activities and Diabetes

The decisions you make every day about what you eat, your activity, medicines, and more, make a big difference in how you feel and how your body works. These choices can also lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Being More Active

Exercise touches on almost all aspects of a healthy life and in managing diabetes. Being more active can: 

  • Improve blood glucose control 
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Improve triglycerides 
  • Improve blood flow
  • Help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight 
  • Lift your mood 
  • Extend your flexibility 
  • Improve your strength and balance to prevent falls 
  • Increase your energy
  • Improve memory 
  • Help you sleep better 

Starting and Staying Active

Talk to your healthcare team if you have questions about which activities are right for you and how to stay safe. 

Even small amounts of activity can help. Simply moving is the first step.  


  • If you sit for long periods of time at home or work, be sure to take breaks every 30 minutes to stand up, stretch, and even walk around. 
  • Aim for 30 or more minutes of activity at least 5 times a week. You can break this up into a 10-minute activity three times a day, such as walking, dancing, or using a stationary bike. Find activities that you enjoy. 
  • Strength or lightweight training exercise 2-3 days a week offers additional benefits. 
  • Because exercise lowers your blood glucose, you may need to check your levels before, during, and after your activity if you use certain medicines. 
  • Drink water before, during, and after being active. 
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes, and make sure to take care of your feet. 
  • You can track your activity through a chart, your smartphone or smartwatch, or a pedometer. 
  • Carry a cell phone, identification, and fast-acting glucose tablets, gummy candy, or small hard candies. 
  • Exercising with a friend or participating in fitness classes can help you to be responsible and successful. 

Healthy Eating and Diabetes

Making informed choices about what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat can help you keep your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in a healthy range and help you reach or stay at a healthy weight. 

Healthy Food Choices

What to Eat

What you eat has an impact on your blood glucose and blood pressure. Eating healthy can be full of flavor:

Swapping high-calorie/high-salt condiments and sauces (like regular mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and tartar sauce) with lower-calorie/lower-sodium options (like mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, salsa, low-sodium soy sauce, and low-calorie dressings) can help provide flavor without as many calories or sodium. 

How to Eat

Knowing how much food you eat can help you choose the right portions to manage your diabetes. You can use the following examples to help you estimate how much you are eating. 

  • The palm of your hand = about 3 ounces of cooked meat, fish, or tofu 
  • For portions of rice, potatoes, grains, cereal, and side dishes, a fist = about 1 cup and a half a fist = ½ cup 
  • For portions of salad dressings and sour cream, a thumb = 1 tablespoon 
  • For portions of margarine and butter, half of thumb = 1 ½ teaspoon

When to Eat

Eating your meals around the same times each day can be helpful in managing your blood glucose. Avoid skipping meals or going long periods without eating. 

Pay attention when you eat. You may enjoy your food more and eat less. Make a plan to eat only at the table, without any distractions. Savor each bite and pay attention to the mix of flavors and textures. Chew slowly and pause between bites. Enjoy your food. 

You can track your food intake using a log like the one below, or on an app on your smartphone, tablet, or desktop. Review it after a few days and look for the changes that you are most confident that you can make. 


Disclaimer: While PCNA strives to provide reliable, up-to-date health information, this and other PCNA education materials are for informational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Only your healthcare provider can diagnose and treat a medical problem.