Avoid Diabetes-Related Complications: Top 10 Tips

There's good news when it comes to diabetes: Death rates from the disease are on the decline. In fact, all-cause mortality among individuals with diabetes is down 23 percent, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Deaths from cardiovascular disease were down 40 percent, according to the study, which was published in the journal Diabetes Care.

The bad news?  Diabetes is still the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and new cases of blindness.

"People with diabetes are living longer," says CDC senior research scientist Sharon Saydah, Ph.D., one of the authors of the study. "But they're at risk for a number of complications-cardiovascular disease, lower leg amputations, kidney disease, eye problems, dementia, and other kinds of disability."

So how can you give yourself every possible chance to avoid the complications of diabetes? Start with these key recommendations:

1. Watch your weight. Ensuring that you are at a healthy weight is very important, says Martha McKittrick, RD, CDN, CDE, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City.

2. Get moving. Walking can keep your heart healthy and your blood pressure in the normal range, McKittrick says. "You don't have to join a gym," she says. "You just need to walk, take the stairs, and be more active."

3. Eat healthy. "Focus on lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and nonfat or lowfat dairy products," McKittrick says. "Eat whole grains rather than processed grains."

4. Get regular dental checkups. "Individuals with diabetes are more prone to gum infections," McKittrick says. In general, she says, you should plan to visit your dentist twice a year, and more often if need be.

5. Examine your feet often. "Having an elevated glucose level damages the nerves in your feet," Mckittrick. If you have numbness in your feet or need help with foot care, get them checked by a podiatrist on a regular basis. If not treated, a simple blister can turn into a larger ulcer.

6. Learn to practice healthy coping, says Charlotte Hayes, MMSc, MS, RD, CDE, Senior Director of Programs & Policy Development for Good Measure Meals, a comprehensive nutrition care service. "When you have a chronic disease, it's important to find things that you enjoy doing and to do these things each day," she says. You may find a support group particularly rewarding, or you may discover a sport or other physical activity that you enjoy.

7. Develop resilience and look for solutions. "Find solutions to walk around the problems you have," Hayes says. "Set goals for yourself, and have a plan of action." One weekly goal may be to walk 10 minutes during lunchtime, or to eat a salad at dinner. "All of these little things can really make a difference and help someone move toward better health," Hayes says.

8. Practice self-monitoring. Keep an eye on your blood glucose levels, and be aware of your blood pressure and your cholesterol level.

9. Stay engaged with your healthcare team. They can help you set goals in terms of your blood glucose levels. "A diabetes educator can help you understand how meal planning and activities work together," Hayes says.

10. Be your own health care advocate. "It's not just your physician and registered dietitian who are on your health care team," Hayes says. "You need to be engaged in asking questions and decision-making. You're an active member of your team."

Dr. Amber Taylor reviewed this article.


Gregg, Edward W. et al. "Trends in death rates among U.S. adults with and without diabetes between 1997 and 2006." Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association.

Bakalar, Nicholas. "Steep fall in death rates among diabetics." 28 May 2012. The New York Times

National Diabetes Statistics, 2011. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.