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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Your 15 diabetes healthcare essentials

When you have diabetes, you’re entitled to certain checks, tests and services from the NHS to help you get the care you need. You might know this as your annual review.

There are 15 different checks and services you're entitled to — although you may not need all of them. We call this package of care your 15 Healthcare Essentials. Having these diabetes checks helps you reduce your risk of serious diabetes complications, like losing your sight or having dangerous problems with your feet. 

Here's the 15:

Use our 15 healthcare essentials checklist to help you tick off the essentials and stay on track. Find out about appointments during the pandemic. If you aren't happy with your care, speak to your doctor or call our helpline for advice.

15 healthcare essentials checklists

Order free print versions or download your free checklist in English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Polish, Punjabi or Urdu

Knowing your essential checks puts you in the driving seat. It means you know what appointments you should be having with your healthcare team, but also what you should be doing to manage your diabetes in between appointments.

Here we take you through each one, explaining:

  • what your healthcare team can help you with
  • what you can do yourself.

1. Know your blood sugar levels

High blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels and make you more at risk of serious diabetes complications. And if your doctor says you’ve got slightly raised levels, this still may not be safe and you need to take action to bring them down.

You need a healthcare professional to check your average blood glucose levels. It’s called an HbA1c blood test

And in between tests, you can keep a close eye on your levels by doing finger-prick tests or using a flash glucose monitor. Not everyone with diabetes will need to do this, but people who are on insulin and certain types of medication will need to.

Get to know what your results mean. You’ll have your own personal targets – know your numbers and see how your levels have changed over time.

We’ve got lots more info about the HbA1c test and what you can do to bring your levels down.

2. Know your blood pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk of diabetes complications like heart problems, kidney disease and serious eye damage. This is because the blood pressure puts a strain on your blood vessels and heart, so they can’t work properly.

It’s important to know that you might still feel healthy when you have high blood pressure. But it’s causing damage to your blood vessels that you can’t see and you need to get treated.

Your doctor or nurse will measure your blood pressure. They’ll agree a personal target for you. Make a note of the numbers and get to know what they mean.

You should know how to bring the levels down if you need to. You can do this by being active, watching your weight, eating a healthy diet and with medication. Get all the facts on how to prevent high blood pressure and how to manage it.

3. Know your cholesterol (blood fats)

Good control of your blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol is critical to reducing your risk of serious complications.

Cholesterol is a type of fat (or lipids) in the blood. Too much bad cholesterol can block blood vessels and stop blood getting to important organs like your heart.

Your healthcare team will check your cholesterol. They’ll tell you what the results mean and if you need to take action to bring it down.

We’ve got more information on how to manage your cholesterol and keep it at a safe level.

4. Look after your eyes

You’re more at risk of serious eye damage because of your diabetes. High blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels that help the eye work properly. But while diabetes is a leading cause of preventable sight loss – you can prevent it.

An eye screening appointment is different to a normal eye test. A photo is taken of the back of your eyes to see if there are any changes. Screening helps your healthcare team spot any sight problems early and treat them in time.  Never skip an appointment – you could develop a serious problem like diabetic retinopathy and spotting it early can prevent you losing your sight.

But it’s not only about eye screening. Are you checking your eyes between appointments? Did you know that even slightly high blood sugar levels affect how healthy your eyes stay?

And did you know smoking increases your risk of eye disease too? Stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do today.

Be in the know about the signs of retinopathy and how to prevent it getting worse.

5. Check your feet and legs

Having diabetes means you’re much more at risk of developing serious problems with your feet. If these aren’t treated properly, it could lead to amputation.

It’s never been more important to check your feet and legs. This means going to your annual foot check and checking your feet every day. We can show you what to check for and how to do it.

6. Keep your kidneys healthy

A third of people with diabetes go on to have serious kidney problems. This is because high blood sugars and high blood pressure damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, stopping them from working properly.

You might not notice anything’s wrong with your kidneys. That’s why it’s so important you get your kidney check – so your healthcare team can spot any changes in time to treat it.

You can keep your kidneys healthy by following your other essential healthcare checks, like knowing your safe HbA1c level, keeping your blood pressure in check and knowing your cholesterol.

Find out more about what happens at your kidney test and how to keep your kidneys healthy.

7. Take control of your diet

Having less salt and less fatty food in your diet will help you keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check. And as you now know, this helps reduce your risk of diabetes complications.

Because you have diabetes, you’re entitled to dietary advice from a dietitian.

Someone will also check your weight and give you more support and information on how to manage your weight if you need it.

None of this means you can't still enjoy food, it’s just all about planning ahead a little more. We’ve got loads of meal plans and advice to help get you started. And check out our recipes too – we’ve included information about the carbs, calories and salt in each one.

8.Talk about how you’re feeling

Being diagnosed with diabetes and living with a long-term condition can be difficult. You’ll have ups and downs. Try to talk to your doctor or nurse about anything you’re worried about. You’ve got the right to specialist psychological support if you need it.

Your family and friends may also want to help. Talk to them. It may help you feel better and less stressed.

But if you’re not ready to speak to someone in person, try our helpline. We have trained advisors on the other end of the phone who’ll listen and can give advice. You could also give our online forum a go and chat to other people going through similar things.

9. Go on a diabetes education course

There's lots to learn about diabetes. And an online or face-to-face education course can help you look after your diabetes, however long you've had the condition.  Find out what kind of education courses are on offer. Or speak to your healthcare team about what's in your area at the moment.

And if you need that bit extra, have you heard about our Learning Zone? It’s a place on our website where you can log in and learn about diabetes and how to manage it with confidence. Give it a try, it’s all free.

10. Know your diabetes specialists

When you have diabetes, you get your very own healthcare team made up of various specialists. You’ll see different healthcare professionals depending on what you need.

It’s so important you know your team and who to ask certain questions to. No question is a silly question, so don’t be afraid to ask.

We have more detail about which healthcare professionals you might meet and advice on talking to them.

11. Book your free flu jab

You’re entitled to a free flu jab every year. This is because people with diabetes are more at risk of getting the flu and it can quickly get serious.

Flu can make your blood sugar levels go all over the place, and they can take time to get back to normal. It can make your diabetes even harder to manage so you’re more at risk of having serious blood sugar highs or lows – meaning you’d need to go into hospital straight away.

With blood sugar levels out of your target range, you’re more at risk of serious long-term problems with your eyes, feet and other areas of your body. Getting a flu jab will help you avoid this.

There are things you can do yourself too, to help you manage if you’re unwell.

Get all the facts about the flu jab and make sure yours is booked.

12. Get good care in hospital

If you have to stay in hospital, you’re entitled to high-quality care from specialist healthcare professionals. That’s whether you’re in there because of your diabetes or not.

We’ve got more information about the care you should expect in hospital and tips on talking to healthcare professionals to help them understand what you need.

13. Talk about any sexual problems

Diabetes increases the risk of sexual problems in both men and women. This can mean things like erectile dysfunction and cystitis.

It can happen because high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, so blood can’t flow to the sexual organs properly. Feelings like stress and being low can have an effect on your sex life too.

You might find some of these things difficult to talk about. But your healthcare team is there to give you the support, advice or treatment you need. 

And we’re here too. You can call our helpline for more advice or read our information on talking about sex.

14. Stop smoking

Diabetes means you’re more at risk of getting heart disease or a stroke, and smoking increases this risk. This is because smoking makes it a lot harder for blood to flow around your body and get to your heart.

And it’s not just your heart you’re putting at risk. Smoking increases your blood pressure, which makes you more at risk of complications like sight loss, nerve damage, and a lot more.

If you smoke, giving up is the best thing you can do. You can get help from the NHS, and we can support you with giving up smoking too.

15. Plan ahead if you want a baby

Your diabetes management has to be a lot tighter when you’re planning to have a baby, because there are a lot more risks involved.

Having children is a big decision for anyone and if you’re a woman with diabetes, it’s one that needs a lot of thought and careful planning.

Your healthcare team will be there every step of the way, from planning and pre-conception advice, to post-natal care. Make sure you’re prepared by finding out everything you need to know on diabetes and pregnancy.

Remember, be in the know during and between appointments. This will help you reduce your risk of developing serious complications, so you can keep living a healthy life with diabetes.

15 healthcare essentials, essential list of NHS care for adults with diabetes

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15 healthcare essentials in English, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Polish, Punjabi or Urdu
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