Your blood sugar level and diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and your blood sugar level is too high you are at risk of developing serious complications such as lower limb amputations, blindness, heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure.

Depending on the diabetes medication you have been prescribed, your healthcare team may discuss with you the option of monitoring your blood sugar level at home.

Not everyone with diabetes will need to monitor their blood sugar level themselves but if you do, you’ll be provided with a meter and testing strips. Using a finger-pricking device you prick the side of your finger, put a drop of blood on a testing strip and then check the meter to see if you are achieving your target blood glucose level.

You will agree your target level with your healthcare team but the aim will be for it to be as near normal as possible. The target ranges for blood glucose levels for people with Type 2 diabetes are:

  • 4 – 7mmol/l before meals
  • less than 8.5mmol/l two hours after meals

At least once a year, your healthcare team should offer you a blood test (the HbA1c test) to help determine your long-term diabetes control. It measures your average blood glucose level for the previous 6-12 weeks, by looking at the amount of glucose that attaches to the red blood cells in the body. Generally the lower the better (but not too low).

For more information about blood glucose testing click on the link below which will take you to the Diabetes UK website:

Monitor your blood glucose levels

Your weight and diabetes

If you are very overweight and you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the key to controlling your condition will be to lose weight. Losing 10% of your body weight can have a very good effect on your diabetes and your overall health.

Although easier said than done there are plenty of incentives for losing weight. It will help control your blood glucose level as well as your blood pressure and cholesterol. This in turn will reduce your risk of developing long-term health problems such as heart attack and stroke.

Losing weight will make you feel fitter and healthier too.

Regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet are needed to losing weight. A balanced diet means eating food that is low in fat, salt and sugar. You can have a sweet treat once in a while, but it’s really important to eat sugary and fatty foods in moderation.

There is plenty of information on the NHS Choices website about healthy eating and keeping active. Click on the links below:

Healthy eating

Health and fitness

Your eyes and diabetes

A common complication of diabetes is damage to the ‘seeing’ part of the eye.

This is called diabetic retinopathy and if not treated it can lead to blindness. Indeed retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness among people of working age in the UK.

Everyone who has diabetes is invited for free eye screening every year to check for diabetic retinopathy.

Your annual screening checks are essential because often there are no symptoms until it is well advanced. In fact people with retinopathy may not even be aware of changes to the retina until their vision has been permanently damaged.

During retinal screening a picture of your retina is photographed using a special digital camera. This is then sent to a specialist who will look for any changes that need to be treated.

If you do not need any treatment it’s still important to keep attending your screening appointments each year.

For more information about the treatments for diabetic retinopathy visit the Diabetes UK website.

Your feet and diabetes

If you have diabetes your feet need special attention. This is because diabetes can reduce the supply of blood to your feet and cause a loss of feeling. The medical term for this is sensory neuropathy.

You may not notice that you have lost the feeling in your feet so there is risk that a minor injury could develop into serious complications, including amputation due to gangrene.

Getting your blood glucose levels under control is the best way of preventing neuropathy.

You should get your feet checked at least once a year by a doctor, nurse or podiatrist.

You should always see your doctor if you notice any signs of redness, pain, build up of hard skin or changes in the shape of your foot.

There are tips on how to look after your feet on the NHS Choices website:

Foot care if you have diabetes

Your nerves and diabetes

High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves in your body. This means the nutrients your nerves need to function can’t get through and the nerve fibres are then damaged or disappear.

This can cause a number of problems, including foot complications from sensory neuropathy.

There are other types of neuropathy caused by diabetes, which affect the nerves carrying information to your organs and glands and also to the nerves that control movement.

Symptoms can include:

  • problems with digestion
  • loss of bladder control
  • erectile dysfunction
  • muscle weakness (causing falls)
  • muscle wasting
  • muscle twitching and cramps

There is more information about the different types of neuropathy, its treatment and prevention on the Diabetes UK website:

Neuropathy – a long-term complication of diabetes

Your kidneys and diabetes

People with diabetes who are unable to keep their blood sugar and blood pressure levels under control are prone to developing chronic kidney disease.

Your kidneys clean and filter your blood and get rid of waste and water that your body doesn’t need. They also help control blood pressure. If your kidneys are damaged they are unable to remove the waste and extra fluid from your body.

Your blood pressure will be affected and so will the fluid balance of your body. You may experience swelling in the feet and ankles and over time, if the problem isn’t addressed, you are likely to become very ill.

Problems with your kidneys can develop slowly over many years and you may not even be aware that they are being damaged.

Therefore it’s very important that you have a blood and urine test every year to measure your kidney function.

There is more information about diabetic kidney disease on the Diabetes UK website:

Diabetes complications: kidneys