Our CEO, Peter, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 27. As he can tell you, having just been diagnosed with diabetes is a huge shock. Suddenly, things that you never thought about before have become central to your life. It’s a big change.
As anyone with diabetes will tell you: it takes time. Don’t expect to be an expert immediately. Allow yourself time to accept the change, and adapt slowly.
People with diabetes will also tell you that it gets better. You’ll learn that diabetes doesn’t need to get in the way of your life. So, in the meantime, find answers to different questions here.
Dealing with diabetes can be a great deal of information at once. You don’t need to take in all these answers at once, but you can keep this as a future reference, for the questions that will come up along the way.
Questions About Being Diagnosed with Diabetes
In this section (click to scroll down!):
Where do I start?
Why is diabetes about blood sugar?
Why is there a type 1 and type 2?
Why does diabetes need to be treated?
How do I treat my diabetes?
How do I know what my blood sugar level is?
How often should I check my blood sugar level?
What should my target blood sugar range be?
How do I take diabetes pills?
How do I take insulin injections?
How much insulin should I take for a meal?
How much insulin should I take when I’m not eating?
Can I get help with figuring out insulin?
Why does low blood sugar happen?
What can I do about low blood sugar?
What can I eat?
How do I count carbs?
Is exercise safe?
Can diabetes be cured?
Who can I talk to?
Is there anything I shouldn’t do?
Here is a good place to start! It’s great that you’re taking the first steps after being diagnosed with diabetes.
Your doctor should be able to tell you what you need to do next. This will include educating yourself about how diabetes works. You can do so with this blog post, and with our other blog posts, such as How to Manage type 1 Diabetes.
By starting to learn about diabetes, you may also see how an app can help with making diabetes management easier. Let Peter Lucas guide you through how to get started with Hedia. You can find Hedia at the App Store and Google Play!
In a nutshell, diabetes is when the body can’t regulate its own blood sugar/glucose levels. This means that diabetes is often about high blood sugar since the body can’t lower the blood sugar.
Too high blood sugar is called hyperglycemia.
Ordinarily, the pancreas will produce insulin, a hormone that will lower blood sugar. For people with diabetes, the body is either not responding to insulin, or not producing it, to varying degrees.
Type 1 and type 2 are both kinds of diabetes but they are different because they cause high blood sugar for different reasons.
Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas stops (partly or completely) producing insulin. This is an autoimmune disease.
Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is where, over time, the body has become resistant to the effects of insulin.
Since people with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin, they will always need insulin injections. Some people with type 2 can treat their diabetes in other ways (including diet and pills), but some with type 2 might also need insulin injections.
In this sense, it might be easier to differentiate in terms of insulin-dependent diabetes, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes. These terms can include other types of diabetes, such as gestational diabetes (a kind of diabetes that may arise during pregnancy), which are also treated either with or without insulin, depending on the person.
If blood sugar is left to get too high, it will be dangerous; it can lead to a diabetic coma.
And, unfortunately, if diabetes is managed poorly over a longer period, it can lead to future neural and cardiovascular complications.
This shouldn’t be anything you need to sit and worry about, though. You’re already taking the right steps to learning about diabetes; you’re on the path to a well-managed diabetes!
Treating your diabetes means keeping your blood sugar at a level that is safe. This is especially the case at mealtimes. This is because blood sugar rises after eating because the carbs in food become glucose in the blood.
For people with insulin-dependent diabetes, this often means taking injections before eating, to counteract the high blood sugar that comes with carbs.
For people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes, high blood sugar can be kept at bay by eating food that doesn’t contain a huge amount of carbs, and by exercising regularly (because exercise increases insulin sensitivity).
Those with non-insulin-dependent diabetes might also be prescribed drugs in pill form. A common drug for treating diabetes is metformin, which decreases glucose production in the liver, and helps the body respond to insulin.
Other pills also usually help to lower blood sugar, or help the pancreas to secrete insulin.
You will use a blood glucose monitor (often referred to as a blood meter) to find out what your blood sugar level is.
You use a small drop of your blood (which you get from a quick prick of the skin on the finger by a lancet) and put it onto a strip which the machine analyses.
An alternative, if available to you, is a continuous blood glucose monitor. It has a section that stays attached to your arm, and then does what it says on the tin: it continuously measures your blood glucose.
In general, you should check your blood sugar at least before meals, after meals, and before bed. However, the frequency of your blood sugar tests will vary depending on your situation.
Exercise and diabetes, for instance, will have an impact on blood sugar – in such a case you should check before and after exercise. Experiences that raise adrenaline levels – like diabetes and the flu or stress and diabetes – can also raise blood sugar levels. In those cases, you should also check more often.
Your blood sugar level should generally be between 80 and 130 mg/dL or between 4 and 7 mmol/L.
Two hours after eating, you can expect your blood sugar to rise. So, after eating, a healthy blood sugar should generally be under 180 mg/dL or 9 mmol/L.
Of course, speak to your doctor about what your personal targets should be.
How you take your pills will depend on the kind of pills you are prescribed. Your doctor will explain how to take them.
But as a general guide, we’ll describe metformin as an example. You will usually take metformin at the same time as eating your morning and evening meals – so, twice a day. This can vary, though, depending on what your doctor advises.
You should inject insulin with an insulin pen into a layer of fat (called subcutaneous tissue). The most common site for injections is the fatty tissue on the abdomen (in other words, your belly). This is the quickest way for insulin to enter the bloodstream.
The upper arms (between the elbow and shoulder), can also be injected into. From here, the insulin can enter the bloodstream at a moderately fast rate. Another site for injecting yourself with insulin can be the thighs – although, the insulin reaches the bloodstream slower from there.
If insulin-dependent, you’ll need to inject before or with a meal (this injection is called a bolus). You’ll most likely be using rapid-acting insulin, in which case, you generally inject immediately after having carbs or between 5 and 15 minutes before having carbs.
In addition, you should generally inject once a day for your basal insulin dose. This is usually long-acting insulin, which works in the background to help keep blood sugar stable throughout the day.
Finally, you might need a correction dose. When not eating, and you find that your blood sugar is too high, you would take the correction dose to lower it.
For your meal-time insulin (called a bolus), the amount of insulin depends on how many carbs you will be having.
Insulin is measured in units. If you’re wondering “how much insulin should I take?“, then you should think about your insulin-to-carb ratio. This is where you figure out how many units are needed for a certain number of carbs.
Your particular insulin-to-carb ratio will be advised by a doctor and will be established by trying different ratios out. A general standard that can be used is the 500-rule. (So called because it is calculated using 500 – where it is assumed that a person will eat 500 grams of carbs in a day – divided by your total daily dose of insulin).
Let’s say your total daily dose is 50 units of insulin, then you would divide 500 by 50, giving you 10. This amounts to an insulin-to-carb ratio of 1:10 (1 unit of insulin counteracts 10 grams of carbs).
And, so, in this example, if you’re having 10 grams of carbs, you would need to inject 1 unit of insulin. 20 grams of carbs, and you would need 2 units.
For your basal insulin, you’ll usually have a set amount, according to advice from your doctor.
For your correction dose, you’ll need to know your correction factor (also called insulin sensitivity factor). This is the amount of blood sugar that is lowered by one unit of insulin.
You’ll establish what your general correction factor should be with a doctor. However, this will vary according to what you’ve been doing (for instance, if you’ve been doing aerobic exercise, which will increase insulin sensitivity).
A general standard for the correction factor is the 100-rule (for blood sugar measured in mmol/L) or the 1800-rule (for blood sugar measured in mg/dL). They have these names because you divide either 100 or 1800 by the total number of insulin units per day (let’s say 50 units). 100 ÷ 50 = 2; 1800 ÷ 50 = 36.
This amounts to a factor where 1 unit of insulin will lower 2 mmol/L of blood sugar, or 1 unit will lower 36 mg/dL of blood sugar.
Yes! That is something that Hedia’s insulin calculator can help with. You’ll first set up Hedia by giving your insulin-to-carb ratio and your correction factor/insulin sensitivity factor.
After setting up, you can ask Hedia for recommended insulin doses whenever you want by pressing the “+” at the bottom of the screen.
You need to tell Hedia your current blood sugar level (either manually or wirelessly with some blood glucose monitors).
Then, you enter carb amount (if you’re going to have any, or if you had carbs recently). You can enter this manually or use Hedia’s food database to find carbs.
Finally, you enter any exercise and whether you’ve had insulin recently. And then, Hedia has put all the calculations together to give you a recommended insulin dose!
While diabetes mainly concerns high blood sugar, you can also get low blood sugar if you use insulin.
This is because insulin is responsible for lowering blood sugar. But if you end up taking too much insulin, your blood sugar will be lowered too much. This is called hypoglycemia. (This is the opposite of hyperglycemia – the similarity of the names can be confusing at first!)
If this is not treated, it can be dangerous because it can lead to a coma.
You can read more about hypoglycemia and its symptoms on our blog post on What Happens when Blood Sugar is low?.
If your blood sugar is low enough to be considered hypoglycemia, then you need to raise it back to safe levels by taking carbs.
This is why many with diabetes carry a sugary snack with them to be prepared for such situations.
A common method for raising blood sugar is the rule of 15, which is where you eat 15g of carbs, wait 15 minutes, and then check your blood sugar again. If your blood sugar is not high enough, repeat the process.
Get the rule of 15 with some suggestions for snacks with 15g of carbs in PDF form here!
For a more accurate calculation of how many carbs to take, you can ask Hedia to do the maths, in the same way you would ask for an insulin calculation.
What you can eat depends on how you are treating your diabetes.
If you are treating your diabetes without insulin and with diet and exercise, you should aim to eat food that won’t send your blood sugar levels high – which generally means a healthy diet. See more information about this on our blog post Food and Diabetes.
If you’re using insulin, then you should be able to eat whatever you want because the insulin takes care of the carbs.
Of course, it’s better to eat healthier food, especially since certain carb-rich foods might make blood sugar levels harder to control.
However, as long as you inject the right amount of insulin for the carbs you’re having, you can eat what you want.
You can count carbs first by looking at the labels on food packaging. These will tell you how many carbs are in the portion.
In other cases, the label might tell you how many carbs there are per 100g of the food. Then you calculate how many carbs there are for the weight of your portion. So, let’s say there are 20g of carbs per 100g of food. Your portion is 200g, which is double of 100g. This means that the carbs should also be doubled, giving you 40g of carbs for your 200g meal.
Another way to count carbs is to use Hedia’s food database, containing more than 1700 food items. If you find your food in the database, it will have carb information there.
Learn more about carb counting at How do you Count Carbs in Homemade food?.
Yes, as long as you’re aware of what your blood sugar level is.
Our blog post Does Exercise Lower Blood Sugar? will tell you that aerobic exercise lowers blood sugar, and that anaerobic exercise raises blood sugar.
It’s important to check blood sugar levels before and after exercise – you can find out what steps to take on the blog post.
But exercise is important for people with diabetes because it promotes insulin sensitivity and helps reduce the risk of complications later in life.
This insulin sensitivity also means that insulin levels might need to be adjusted. Want help with that? Hedia will help reduce the insulin recommendation prior to exercise. See for yourself at the App Store or Google Play!
No, unfortunately diabetes can’t be cured. Diabetes is a chronic condition.
For some people with type 2 diabetes, it can be sent into remission with good diet and exercise – but it can’t be reversed.
That doesn’t mean you can’t live a full life: research and treatment has come so far that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you want.
Diabetes is a physical condition, and yet, psychological strain can also come from it. Talking about diabetes is something that you should feel free to be able to do.
This is especially true after you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes. This particular stage will likely feel like an unusual moment in your life; it’s ok to get help with processing those feelings.
Many healthcare professionals are aware that people with diabetes might want to open up about their feelings. Accordingly, your healthcare professional will be the first person you might want to talk to. They might also be able to refer you to a therapist.
Consider also opening up to friends and family. They may not have the professional skills to help you deal with certain situations, but they will have the emotional understanding that can help guide you through the next steps after being diagnosed with diabetes.
Not really, no. As long as you take precautions (like testing blood glucose), you shouldn’t feel like there’s anything you can’t do.
This is something that we firmly believe at Hedia. That’s why we want to put the practical side of diabetes into one app – Hedia Diabetes Assistant – so that you can focus on what you want to do, rather than always focusing on your diabetes.
Just been Diagnosed with Diabetes: the next Steps
Everybody processes and deals with diabetes in their own way. This is really the answer to how to manage diabetes: take time to figure out what works best for you.
So, instead of trying to find specific next steps, see which next step feels natural to you. Don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare professional questions and listen to their advice. Diabetes forums can also be a great place for questions, such as the Diabetes.co.uk forum – the largest diabetes community forum in Europe.
You may also find comfort in reading the experiences of others on diabetes blogs, such as Cazzy Magennis of “Dream Big, Travel Far” and her diagnosis story. See also what steps our co-founder, Peter Lucas, took after he had just been diagnosed with diabetes: New with Diabetes.
As a diabetes community, we’re here for each other; you will get through this!