Diabetes is a long-lasting disease in which your body either does not produce insulin or can't effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. If insulin levels are low or if cells fail to respond to insulin, blood sugar levels become too high.

One of the body's essential functions is to turn food into energy — glucose, or sugar. If there is too much glucose in the blood, the body begins to work against itself. You may urinate frequently as your body tries to shed sugar. Your blood becomes thicker, straining your blood vessels (especially the smaller ones) and your heart, which can leave you fatigued and at risk for heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

How can a health-care provider help manage diabetes?

People with diabetes should see their primary-care provider and other specialists at least every six months and have their bodies checked from head to toe for open wounds, blisters, calluses, and dry skin. Checking the feet is critical: Neuropathy is common in people with diabetes because high blood sugar can damage the nerves in the body.

Your provider should also refer you to an eye doctor for an annual exam during which you will be screened for diabetic retinopathy, a condition that develops when the blood vessels in the retina become damaged. Left undiagnosed and untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blurry vision and blindness.

An A1C blood test, an important measure, should be performed at least every six months. It provides an average blood sugar level over the last three to four months and is an estimate of overall control.

Your provider may also recommend you see a specially trained nurse or dietitian known as a certified diabetes educator who has specialized knowledge to teach you the best ways to manage your diabetes. At our health system, we offer classes to help people with diabetes learn to monitor and manage the condition. Some of the topics we cover include:

  • Blood-sugar monitoring and target goals.
  • Eating healthy basics.
  • Medications to treat diabetes.
  • How to manage/avoid acute and chronic complications.
  • Diabetes standards of care

What strategy do you find most effective for helping patients manage their own diabetes?

Our approach with newly diagnosed patients is to keep it simple and make it clear the patient can play a significant role in managing their diabetes through their daily lifestyle choices.  We developed an easy-to-remember phrase to help them stay on track, known as "Meet Me @ 7:"

  • Monitor your blood sugar every day, or as advised by your health-care provider.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and read food labels.
  • Exercise and be active.
  • Treat your blood sugar; learn from your health-care team how to prevent and manage emergencies.
  • Medication faithfulness is vital. Take the correct dose daily, as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Evaluate yourself from head to toe.
  • @ 7 percent or less is your A1C goal.

What new technology is available to make it easier for people to manage their diabetes?

Continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps, and multiple mobile apps have improved diabetes management for the millions of people living with this disease.

Meaghan Kim R.N. is the director of population health at AtlantiCare, which has locations in five counties in southern New Jersey.