The ABCs of Diabetes


Pat F. Bass III, MD

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My youngest child has recently been learning the alphabet and beginning to put words together. While most of us probably cannot remember a time when we did not know our ABCs, I cannot say the same for many of my patients and their diabetes knowledge.

Just as the ABCs are a building block for the development of language skills, diabetes has its own ABCs you'll need to learn to get your diabetes under control and prevent complications.

A. A1C and Aspirin

The hemoglobin A1C test helps you see how your blood sugar was controlled over the last several months. You need to have your A1C checked at least two times per year. In order to lower your risk of diabetic complications, most patients will want an A1C of less than 7%. However, everyone’s body is different, so make sure you and your doctor discuss an appropriate hemoglobin A1C goal for your diabetes.

The other A is for aspirin. Taking a daily aspirin lowers your risk of heart disease, so it is a very important preventive measure for many diabetics. Because not every diabetic needs aspirin, talk to your doctor about your risk of developing heart disease and the best preventative action to take.

B. Blood Pressure

Maintaining normal blood pressure and reducing elevated blood pressure or hypertension is an important part of your diabetes care. Poor blood pressure control can lead to problems with your eyes, heart, or kidneys.

You should have your blood pressure checked at every physician visit. Although every patient is different, most diabetics have a blood pressure goal of less than 130/80. Some blood pressure medications, like ace inhibitors, not only lower your blood pressure, but also decrease risk from other complications of diabetes.

C. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a form of fat that is more likely to be elevated in diabetes patients. High levels increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.

You may have heard of the terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cholesterol. The goal of treatment is to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) or raise good cholesterol (HDL). Your doctor may also discuss your triglycerides with you. Cholesterol goals are:

  • LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/ dl
  • HDL cholesterol greater than 40 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl

D. Diabetes Educator

While many patients want a medication to fix their blood sugar problem, a diabetes educator can help you better understand your disease and help you deal with common problems many patients fail to recognize. Surprisingly, these educators are often underutilized. If you have never seen a diabetes educator, talk with your doctor about a referral.

E. Eye Exam

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Losing eyesight from diabetes is preventable with good control and regular eye exams. Type 2 diabetics should see their eye doctors shortly after getting diagnosed and then check in at least once per year.

F. Foot Exams and Flu Shots

Good foot care is essential for your diabetes health. Failing to take care of your feet can lead to infections, ulcers and ultimately the loss of toes or your entire foot. Regular foot exams can identify a problem before you develop a serious complication.

Flu shots are recommended for nearly all diabetics, but many patients avoid them. However, you are taking great risks if you do not receive this preventive vaccine. Diabetics are three times more likely to be hospitalized or die from the flu compared to those without diabetes. Additionally, diabetics are more likely to develop flu complications.

These ABCs of diabetes can be the building blocks you need to better understand and control this chronic, but manageable, condition.

THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.

Dr. Pat Bass, MD

Pat Bass III, MD

Dr. Pat Bass is chief medical information officer and an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at LSU Health- Shreveport and University Hospital. View his Healthgrades profile >

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