Diabetes ABCs


Type 2 diabetes management can be overwhelming, but understanding the basics of which numbers to pay attention can simplify it. The three numbers you should know are A1C, Blood pressure and Cholesterol—otherwise known as the Diabetes ABCs. Understanding these numbers can reduce the risks of serious diabetes-related complications.

A for the A1C Test

The A1C test displays shows your average blood glucose levels for the previous three months. It’s used to regularly diagnose type 2 diabetes and is given through your physician. Normal A1C levels can range from 4.6 to 6.0 percent, whereas an A1C higher than 6.7 indicates one has diabetes.

Your diabetes care team can tell you what your A1C should be and the risks of maintaining a high A1C over a long period of time. Remember, maintaining a high A1C can lead to complications such as blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy and increase your chances for cardiovascular diseases.

The good news is managing or lowering your A1C doesn’t have to be difficult. Ask your diabetes care team for recommendations on food, exercise, stress-relieving activities and other educational material and to help you set manageable daily blood sugar level goals.

B for Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure numbers indicate how hard your heart works to pump blood throughout your body. The top number is the systolic pressure, which is the pressure inside your arteries when your heart contracts. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, is the pressure when the heart is resting. The higher both numbers are, the harder your heart is working to maintain blood flow.

Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 120/80. Numbers 140/90 or higher constitutes as high blood pressure, which increases your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. This is especially true for people living with type 2 diabetes, who are twice as likely to have high blood pressure. You should have your blood pressure checked at every doctor’s visit.

Your doctor will be able to help you reach healthy blood pressure numbers, as well as recommend tips to manage them. But, sticking to lower-sodium foods, learning to cook at home, exercising regularly and maintaining stress are some helpful ways to get you started.

C for Cholesterol

People with diabetes are more likely to having higher cholesterol levels. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol tends to increase while high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol decreases, causing a condition called diabetic dyslipidemia. Similarly as having high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your chances for a heart attack, but also cardiovascular disease. Think of cholesterol as a plaque that clogs your arteries and makes it harder for your heart to pump throughout your body.

Having high cholesterol is unnoticeable until a serious adverse health event occurs. Your doctor will draw a blood sample and have your cholesterol checked in a lab. The American Heart Association recommends those with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke have their primary care doctor check their cholesterol levels more often than the recommended four-to-six years.

You can maintain good cholesterol by eating heart-healthy foods high in fiber, low in bad fats such as vegetable oil and good fats such as avocados, nuts, fish, whole-grains, lean meats and oils such as olive and canola oil. In regards to ideal cholesterol levels, people with diabetes should aim for LDL levels to remain below 100 mg/dL. But, your doctor will personalize your ideal LDL range.

Be in the Know

Awareness is half the battle when it comes to diabetes management. Also, remember type 2 diabetes is not a one-size-fits all chronic illness, so never be afraid to ask your health care team what your numbers mean for your personal health. There are a myriad of ways to manage type 2 diabetes in your life and the ABCs lays a solid foundation to help you.

WRITTEN BY Beyond Type 2 Editorial Team, POSTED 01/04/19, UPDATED 12/05/22

This piece was authored collaboratively by the Beyond Type 2 Editorial Team.