Receiving a diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming at first. Learning more about diabetes care — and how to go about it — can help you create a streamlined diabetes management plan and make necessary lifestyle changes.

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects about 422 million people around the world. It occurs when your body doesn’t regulate blood sugar (glucose) effectively. While several types of diabetes exist, type 1 and type 2 are the most common.

Most people with diabetes have type 2, but all forms of diabetes require multidimensional management strategies. Being proactive about life with diabetes, taking medications as directed, and focusing on diet and exercise are just a few components of a diabetes management plan.

By learning more about what’s to come after your diagnosis, you can reduce your uncertainty about life with diabetes and increase your sense of control and empowerment.

For many people, an initial diabetes diagnosis comes from their primary care physician (PCP), often during a routine screening or a visit for another condition.

Your PCP is your frontline expert for diabetes education, management, and follow-up care, but your team of medical professionals will likely expand to include the following specialists:

  • Endocrinologist: a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the endocrine system, including diabetes
  • Certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES): a healthcare professional specializing in diabetes education and comprehensive management (previously known as a certified diabetes educator)
  • Registered dietitian: a nutrition expert who can develop diabetes diet plans and provide nutritional coaching

Depending on your diabetes diagnosis and whether you’re experiencing any complications, your healthcare team might also include an ophthalmologist, podiatrist, dentist, cardiologist, or neurologist.

These experts can provide insight into diabetes-related conditions that affect other areas of your body, such as your eyes, feet, or cardiovascular system.

Your PCP will recommend other medical professionals for the long-term management of diabetes and provide referrals if needed.

Remember, you have a choice in which professionals you visit. It’s OK to visit a specialist your PCP didn’t specifically recommend, but you may still need a referral from your PCP’s office.

How often will I need to visit my doctors?

How frequently you visit your PCP and other medical specialists depends on your diagnosis, your symptoms, and how quickly your diabetes can be managed with treatment.

At first, or if you’re finding it difficult to meet your target blood sugar levels, you might need to see your PCP every 3 months or more often for testing and overall assessment. As your blood sugar becomes better regulated, you can extend these visits to every 6 months.

Visits to other medical specialists on your diabetes team will depend on the presence of any diabetes complications. If your diabetes is considered well managed and you’re not noticing any new symptoms, you may need to see your other specialists only once per year.

What questions should I ask my doctors?

Understanding diabetes helps you manage it effectively. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctors questions such as:

  • Why does diabetes affect my ______ [eyes, feet, heart, nerves, etc.]?
  • What symptoms should I watch for?
  • What does this medication do, and why is it important?
  • Are there ways to reduce the chance of diabetes complications?
  • If this treatment doesn’t work, what’s the next step?

There are no silly questions when you’re striving to manage a chronic health condition. It can be helpful to write down your questions before appointments so that you can remember them and make sure all your concerns are addressed.

Medications help regulate your blood sugar level when you have diabetes. The type of medication you’re prescribed depends on the type of diabetes you have, your overall health, and your individual preferences and needs.

Understanding medication options

If you live with type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. This means you have to take insulin every day. Insulin comes in a variety of types that range from rapid-acting to long-acting and can be taken through injections, insulin pens, or insulin pumps.

In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin effectively, so you’ll use non-insulin medications that manage your glucose levels by changing other functions in your body.

Here are some common non-insulin diabetes medications and a few of their brand names:

  • metformin (Glucophage)
  • glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists (Ozempic, Trulicity, Byetta)
  • dual GLP-1/gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP) receptor agonists (Mounjaro)
  • dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors (Nesina, Tradjenta, Onglyza, Januvia)
  • sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors (Brenzavvy, Invokana, Farxiga)
  • thiazolidinediones (TZDs) (Avandia, Actos)
  • sulfonylureas (Amaryl, Glucotrol, Micronase)

Depending on your individual diabetes management needs, your doctor may prescribe less common medications such as the following for you to use in combination with standard prescriptions:

  • meglintinides (Starlix, Prandin)
  • alpha glucosidase inhibitors (Precose, Glyset)
  • bile acid sequestrants (Welchol)
  • dopamine-2 agonists (Cyclosest)

Some people with type 2 diabetes may also need to use insulin if their blood sugar levels are difficult to manage.

Medication management

Medications for diabetes provide round-the-clock management of your blood sugar, which is essential to prevent long-term complications.

Medication management tips that can keep your treatment as consistent as possible include:

  • understanding what your medications are and what they’re used for
  • being aware of any possible medication interactions or side effects
  • taking medications exactly as directed at consistent times, without missing or skipping doses
  • using a medication planner, electronic reminders, or a pill organizer to help you keep track of multiple medications and take them on time
  • setting reminders to fill prescriptions before they run out
  • regularly checking expiration dates
  • keeping emergency diabetes medications (such as fast-acting glucose gel) easily accessible, along with a written plan for when and how to use them

Diabetes management is part of life every day. Regardless of which type of diabetes you have, you’ll likely need to keep certain diabetes supplies on hand.

You’ll learn how to use the following diabetes supplies, technology, and equipment:

  • Blood glucose monitor: a portable device (also known as a glucometer) that measures your blood sugar level using a small droplet of blood from your fingertip
  • Lancets: very small, sterile needles you use to obtain the blood sample for glucose monitoring
  • Blood glucose test strips: strips containing an enzyme that reacts to glucose in blood samples by changing color
  • Continuous glucose monitor (CGM): a wearable glucose monitor that continuously checks your blood sugar using a sensor inserted under your skin
  • Insulin pen: a handheld device that uses insulin cartridges to administer precise insulin injections
  • Smart insulin pen: a reusable insulin pen connected to a smartphone app that provides reminders, alerts, and reports related to your insulin use
  • Insulin syringes and needles: small syringes with fine needles that allow you to draw insulin from a vial and inject it under your skin
  • Insulin pump: a programmable electronic device connected to your body by a catheter that delivers insulin throughout the day based on when you eat and your target blood sugar range
  • Wearable medical identification: a bracelet or necklace that relays important diabetes information in case you’re unable to communicate

Everyone’s diabetes management needs and preferences vary. If you’re not comfortable with a particular type of technology, there’s a good chance another option will work well for you.

How often you use diabetes supplies during the day will depend on your individual diagnosis.

Your diabetes emergency kit

Unregulated blood sugar can be a medical emergency. Blood sugar that’s too high (hyperglycemia) can cause a life threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), while blood sugar that’s too low (hypoglycemia) can lead to seizures, coma, and possibly death.

Having an emergency diabetes kit on hand can save your life. Supplies to add to your kit can include:

  • copies of your prescriptions, medical history, identification, and doctor contacts
  • spare insulin, oral medications, and injection supplies
  • glucose tablets or 15 grams of “quick” carbs (honey, candy, or juice) to raise low blood sugar
  • a portable glucometer
  • extra lancets and testing strips
  • extra batteries for all devices, including those you wear, such as an insulin pump
  • alcohol wipes to clean injection sites
  • glucagon kits (premade kits for treating hypoglycemia)
  • ketone test strips, which can forewarn of DKA
  • an empty safety container for used needles and syringes

A balanced diet and exercise are important in diabetes management. They can help manage factors that contribute to diabetes, such as obesity, but they can also affect how well your medications work and how long you stay within your target blood sugar range.


Living with diabetes doesn’t always mean giving up your favorite foods. You may need to eat them less often or reduce the portion sizes, but overall, balance and mindfulness are key.

This means focusing on diabetes-friendly foods such as:

  • non-starchy vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • protein (animal- or plant-based)
  • fruits (strawberries, grapes, kiwi)
  • healthy fats (nuts, avocados, salmon)

It also means doing your best to limit your consumption of foods that can cause rapid changes to your blood sugar levels, such as:

  • sweets (baked goods, candy, ice cream)
  • sugary beverages (juice, soda, sports drinks)
  • alcohol
  • highly processed foods

Many people living with diabetes follow low carb diets because certain carbohydrates — especially those with a high glycemic index — can rapidly change your blood sugar levels after you eat them.

For some people, reducing carbs can decrease the need for diabetes medication and help them more consistently stay within their target blood sugar range.


Like balancing your diet, being physically active can help regulate your blood glucose levels and reduce certain risk factors associated with diabetes. But because physical activity can directly alter your blood sugar levels, staying safe while active is important.

Tips to safely increase your physical activity include:

  • working with your PCP or CDCES to create a plan for personal fitness goals
  • checking your blood sugar before, during, and immediately after physical activity
  • checking your ketone level before physical activity
  • wearing comfortable, supportive shoes
  • asking your neurologist or podiatrist about compression socks or stockings
  • slowly increasing your activity level with everyday activities, such as doing light yard work or walking more around the house
  • incorporating strength training and cardio workouts according to your medical team’s recommendations

Each person’s fitness level is different. Your PCP or CDCES can help you create an activity plan that matches your current abilities and overall health.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that requires constant management. It’s natural to feel stressed when you receive your diagnosis and at times throughout your treatment process.

According to a 2018 research review, psychological distress is common after a diabetes diagnosis. Many people experience:

  • shock
  • denial
  • anger
  • guilt
  • anxiety
  • frustration
  • fear about treatments
  • depression

To help cope with the mental and physical demands of life with a chronic condition, you can consider:

  • working with a mental health professional
  • adding stress management strategies into your day, such as meditation, mind-body arts, or breath work
  • making any necessary lifestyle changes that promote wellness, such as improving your sleep schedule and staying hydrated
  • joining a support group to share your experience and learn from others
  • enlisting loved ones to help with everyday responsibilities and provide emotional support
  • developing positive outlook habits such as gratitude journaling

A diabetes diagnosis can be life-changing, but it doesn’t have to feel life-ending. By learning as much as you can about diabetes care and management, you can empower yourself to manage your condition.

Working closely with your medical team and being proactive about diabetes lifestyle, coping, and education can all lessen the strain of a diagnosis. For many people, managing diabetes means making positive changes that improve overall well-being.