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Diabetes Type 1: Management

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

Why do I need to manage type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes management means you control your blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes complications. Management will help you feel well and enjoy your daily activities. Your diabetes care team providers can help you make a plan to fit diabetes care into your schedule. Your plan can change over time to fit your needs and your family's needs.

What are the complications of type 1 diabetes?

High blood sugar levels can become life-threatening. Long-term high blood sugar levels can cause problems such as the following:

  • Heart and blood vessel conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, or narrowing of blood vessels
  • Kidney damage that leads to kidney failure
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage), weakness, pain, and numbness, usually in hands and feet
  • Eye damage that leads to blindness
  • Skin and mouth conditions, including infections and gum disease
  • Foot damage that can lead to amputation

How can I manage my blood sugar levels?

  • Check your blood sugar levels as directed and as needed. Several items are available to use to check your levels. You may need to check by testing a drop of blood in a glucose monitor. You may instead be given a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device. A sensor is placed in your abdomen or on your arm. You put a transmitter on the sensor to get a reading that shows up on the monitor. A CGM device can be used with or without an insulin pump. Talk with your diabetes care team provider to find out which is best for you. The goal for blood sugar levels before meals is between 80 and 130 mg/dL and 2 hours after eating is lower than 180 mg/dL.
    How to check your blood sugar
    Continuous Glucose Monitoring
  • Know what to do if your blood sugar level is too high or too low. Levels that remain too high or too low can be life-threatening. Learn the signs or symptoms of high blood sugar levels, such as increased urination and fatigue. Also learn the signs or symptoms of low levels, such as shakiness, sweating, or irritability. Always have glucose tablets or glucose gel to take if levels are too low.
    Ways to Raise Your Blood Sugar
  • Take your insulin as directed. You will need insulin for the rest of your life. Your insulin may be given by injections, or you may have an insulin pump or pen. An insulin pump is an implanted device that gives you a constant amount of insulin through the day. The amount changes when the number of carbohydrates (carbs) are entered. An insulin pen is a device prefilled with the right amount of insulin. You and your provider will discuss which method is best for you.
    Insulin Pen

  • Count your carbs, protein, and fats correctly. Each meal should have a balance of carbs, proteins, and fats. Work with your dietitian to create meal plans so your blood sugar level stays steady throughout the day.
    Plate Method
  • Include high-fiber foods in your meal plans. Fiber helps improve blood sugar levels. Fiber also lowers your risk for heart disease and other problems diabetes can cause. Examples of high-fiber foods include vegetables, whole-grain bread, and beans such as pinto beans. Your dietitian can tell you how much fiber to have each day.

  • Know the risks if you choose to drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar levels to be low if you use insulin. Alcohol can cause high blood sugar levels and weight gain if you drink too much. Women 21 years or older and men 65 years or older should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men aged 21 to 64 years should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Be active 5 days or more, for a total of 150 minutes, in a week. Physical activity helps to lower your blood sugar levels and helps with weight management. It can also help decrease kidney and heart problems. Your provider can help you create an activity plan. The plan can include the best activities for you. The plan will tell you what your blood sugar level should be before exercise. Check your blood sugar level before and after you exercise and before driving.
    Ways to Be Physically Active
    Strength Training for Adults
  • Go to follow-up appointments. You may be sent to different types of providers to check for complications of diabetes. Types of providers include heart (cardiologist), kidney (nephrologist), and nerve (neurologist) specialists. Complications of diabetes can start 3 to 5 years after your diagnosis. You will need to get your eyes checked every year or if you have problems with your vision.

What else can I do to manage type 1 diabetes?

  • Wear medical alert identification. Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that says you have diabetes. Ask your diabetes care team provider where to get these items.
    Medical Alert Jewelry
  • Talk to your provider if you become stressed about diabetes care. Sometimes being able to fit diabetes care into your life can cause increased stress. The stress can cause you not to take care of yourself properly. Your provider can help by offering tips about self-care. He or she may suggest you talk to a mental health provider. The mental health provider can listen and offer help with self-care issues.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung and blood vessel damage. It also makes it more difficult to manage your diabetes. Ask your provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine.
  • Check your feet each day for cuts, scratches, calluses, or other wounds. Look for redness and swelling, and feel for warmth. Wear shoes that fit well. Check your shoes for rocks or other objects that can hurt your feet. Do not walk barefoot or wear shoes without socks. Wear cotton socks to help keep your feet dry.
    Diabetic Foot Care
  • Ask about vaccines you may need. You have a higher risk for serious illness if you get the flu, pneumonia, COVID-19, or hepatitis. Ask your provider if you should get vaccines to prevent these or other diseases, and when to get the vaccines.

Have someone call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have signs of diabetic ketoacidosis:
    • confusion, fatigue
    • vomiting
    • rapid heartbeat
    • fruity smelling breath
    • extreme thirst
    • dry mouth and skin
  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss

When should I call my doctor or diabetes care team provider?

  • You have a sore or wound that will not heal.
  • You have a change in the amount you urinate.
  • Your blood sugar levels are higher than your target goals.
  • You often have lower blood sugar levels than your target goals.
  • Your skin is red, dry, warm, or swollen.
  • You have trouble managing diabetes, or you feel anxious or depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.