Know the ABC's of Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition that can have major consequences for many aspects of your health.  Over 25.8 million people in the United States have diabetes, which amounts to over 8 percent of the total population. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is known to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and nervous system disease.

Diabetes is also the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults and is the cause of over 60 percent of non-traumatic leg amputations.  The good news is that diabetes and the side effects of diabetes can be controlled.

Knowing the ABCs of diabetes can help you understand the importance of controlling your blood sugar and help you remember what you need to do to prevent more serious complications.

  • A: A1C

“A” stands for the A1C blood test, which is also sometimes called the hemoglobin A1C test.  This test is an important tool to help you track your blood sugar levels over time.  Daily home tests monitor blood sugar at the moment the sample is taken.  The A1C test provides an average of your blood sugar readings over the last 2-3 months.  This gives you a better picture of how well your sugar levels have been under control overall, which lets you and your doctor know if you current treatment plan is working.

The goal for diabetics is to keep the A1C reading below 7 percent. Every percentage point above 7 percent doubles your chances of serious complications.  Lower readings can provide greater protection.  Your doctor will determine the best goal for you. Daily home blood testing is still necessary and will continue to guide your insulin doses.  The A1C test requires blood to be drawn in a lab or your doctor’s office. This should be done approximately twice a year to confirm the accuracy of daily test readings. 

  • B: Blood Pressure

Between 20 and 60 percent of people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. This can vary depending on age, ethnicity, and whether your weight is in a healthy range.  High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as kidney and nerve complications from diabetes.  You should have your blood pressure checked at every doctor’s office visit.   The goal for people with diabetes is to keep blood pressure below 130/80.

  • C: Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty material that can be found our blood.  There are two basic types of cholesterol:

LDL – This “bad cholesterol” helps cholesterol deposit on the walls of blood vessels.  High levels of LDL can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and other artery diseases.

HDL – This “good cholesterol” helps prevent the build-up of cholesterol on blood vessel walls and helps provide protection against heart disease and stroke.

When checking cholesterol, your doctor will look at your levels of LDL, HDL, and your total cholesterol, which is the sum of all types of cholesterol in your blood.   He will also test your triglyceride level, which is another type of fat found in the blood that can also contribute to the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels.   Your doctor will need to evaluate your individual risks to determine the goal for each of these levels. In general, these goals apply for people with diabetes:

LDL – less than 100 mg/dl  (lower is better for this “bad” cholesterol)

Triglycerides – less than 150 mg/dl

HDL for women – over 50 mg/dl (higher is better for this “good” cholesterol)

HDL for men – over 40 mg/dl (higher is better for this “good” cholesterol)

These numbers amount to a total cholesterol goal of 170 mg/dl for men or 180 mg/dl for women.

Diet and exercise are two key components to controlling the ABCs of diabetes.  Talk to your healthcare provider for specific instructions to improve your overall health.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for



Clinical Diabetes. Expanded ABCs of Diabetes. Samuel L. Abbate, MD, CDE. Web. February 20, 2012.

American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Statistics. Web. February 20, 2012.

Diabetes Self-Management. ABCs of Diabetes. Web. February 20, 2012.

Medicine Net. Lowering Your Cholesterol. Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM. Web. February 20, 2012.

Medline Plus. Triglycerides. Web. February 20, 2012.


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