Diabetes: Head-to-toe steps for better health

Know the risks and how to help protect yourself

Diabetes affects your entire body. If not managed well, it can harm your nervesOpens a new window and blood vessels. And it can do lasting damage to the kidneys, brain, heart and other important organs that keep you alive.

That’s why your diabetes self-care program should be a whole-body experience. Managing your condition — and taking care from head to toe — may help you avoid serious complications.

Here’s a quick look at what’s at risk — and what you can do to help stay healthy.*

Brain | Risks: stroke, dementia

Diabetes can make it tougher to keep two of the most common risk factors for stroke — blood pressure and cholesterol — in a healthy range. And high blood sugar — a hallmark of diabetes — has been linked to an increased risk for dementia.

Eyes | Risks: vision loss, blindness

Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. It may contribute to glaucoma, cataracts or macular edema — all of which can harm your eyesight.

Mouth | Risks: bleeding gums, bad breath, tooth loss

When uncontrolled, diabetes can cause gum disease. And gum disease, in turn, can make diabetes harder to control.

Heart | Risks: heart disease, heart attack

People who have diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease. And they’re twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Kidneys | Risks: kidney failure

Over time, diabetes can take a toll on your kidneys, eventually leading to the need for dialysis or kidney transplant.

Feet | Risks: sores, infection, amputation

Diabetes can damage nerves and decrease blood flow to your feet. The resulting numbness may make it difficult for you to notice foot problems.

8 steps that may help you stay well:


Talk with your doctor about how to manage your ABCs — A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol.


Work with your doctor on a treatment plan. Follow his or her advice about your diet, exercise and checking your blood sugar. And be sure to take your medicines as directed.


Don’t smoke. If you need help to quit, talk with your doctor.


Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your doctor about the amounts and types of activity that may be best for you — and for tips on following a heart-healthy diet.


Protect your vision with a dilated eye exam once a year. This may be a covered benefit when you use a network doctor.**

6. See your dentistOpens a new window at least once a year. Learn the early warning signs of gum disease.Opens a new window


Ask your doctor if you should have a urine test to check for kidney damage.


Check your feet every day for cuts, blisters and other problems. Use a mirror to see the soles. Have your doctor check your feet regularly too.

What to do next

If you have type 2 diabetes, download Your Diabetes Toolkit  for tips and trackers to help you live healthy.

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*Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.

**A dilated eye exam may fall under your medical benefits or any vision benefits you have. You may be responsible for any deductible, copay or coinsurance that may apply.

Sources: Alzheimer’s Association; American Diabetes Association; MedlinePlus; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; UpToDate