Each year, more than 200,000 people die from diabetes complications in the United States, and millions more have been diagnosed with this chronic disease.By seeing a doctor for regular checkups and having their blood sugar monitored, many people can take steps to avoid the disease. However, for those who do develop diabetes, there is much to know about maintaining their health.

First we'll discuss exactly what diabetes is, how it affects the body and, more importantly, give you five simple tips to help manage diabetes and potentially reverse its effects.

So, let's get started......

Diabetes means that your body has a hard time changing the food you eat into the energy you need. It causes sugar to build up in the blood. If that sugar, also called blood glucose, stays high, it can slowly damage the blood vessels in your feet, eyes, kidneys and heart. This could lead to amputation, blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, so diabetes is not to be taken lightly.

The good news is that you can manage diabetes by eating healthy, being active and getting enough sleep, sometimes to the point of even reversing the condition. Medication or insulin may also be needed to help regulate glucose levels.

There are two main types of diabetes - Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1, formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes, usually occurs before age 20.

Type 1 occurs when your body is not producing enough insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps the body process sugar and turns it into energy. People with Type 1 diabetes always need insulin, either injected or through an insulin pump to replace the lost, natural insulin and help fuel the body.

Type 2 most often develops in overweight individuals and is usually diagnosed after age 35. In the early stages of Type 2, the body has plenty of insulin around, it just doesn't work well. In most cases, simple lifestyle changes are used to treat Type 2 diabetes -- just diet and exercise alone. In other instances, treatment may require oral medications and/or the use of insulin.

There are three more important things to know about Type 2 diabetes:

1. It is associated with heart disease, which is why it's so important to not only treat glucose levels, but also to manage one's blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well.

2. It can be genetic, meaning that it can also be passed down through your family. (and)

3. It can be PREVENTED, if signs and symptoms are recognized early.

Women may develop a third type of diabetes while they are pregnant. Called gestational diabetes, this form can also be managed through diet, exercise and medication, if needed. In most cases, gestational diabetes goes away after their babies are born. However, women who experience it are at higher risk for developing diabetes later in life; their children are also at greater odds for developing the disease.

Diabetes symptoms may be mild or even nonexistent. Be sure to let your doctor know if you experience the following:

Extreme thirst and/or hunger, Fatigue, Frequent urination, Unusual weight loss, Blurred vision, Tingling or numbness in hands or feet , Frequent infections , or bruises which are slow to heal. The only way to know for sure if you have diabetes is to have your doctor do a blood test.

There are five actions steps you must take to successfully manage your diabetes. You must:

1. Monitor your blood sugar

2. Take your medications as directed

3. Eat well

4. Be active and

5. Visit your health care provider at least twice a year to prevent problems.

Let's take a closer look at each step.

As a diabetic, it is extremely important to constantly monitor your blood sugar levels. Low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, can be serious. When your blood sugar is too low, the American Diabetes Association recommends you do the following immediately:

* Regularly test your glucose level. A reading below 70 mg/dL is too low.

* Eat something containing sugar right away to quickly raise your blood sugar.

For example: three glucose pills, 10-15 small sugary candies like jelly beans, or a ½ cup of fruit juice. Stick to these or similar options since a candy bar, for example, may have fats and protein that prevent the sugar from being absorbed quickly.

* After 15 minutes, test your blood glucose again and repeat if necessary. If it's still low, call your emergency service or your health care provider, and

* After you have treated your low blood sugar, be sure to eat regular meals and snacks.

On the other hand, high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, happens when the body has too little insulin or when the body can't use insulin correctly. When the body cannot make enough insulin, it can be added by injection or through use of an insulin pump.

This next step is very simple: If you're prescribed medications to help control your diabetes, take them as directed EVERY DAY.

Your blood sugar is affected by what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. Therefore, a diabetes meal plan is the most important way to help control your glucose and insulin levels.

Think of your plate having three sections: one half having vegetables, and the other half split between a lean protein, such as beans or skinless turkey, and a carbohydrate, like brown rice or whole grain pasta. Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are found in sweets, starchy foods, fruits and milk. Carbs make your blood sugar go up more than any other foods, but you should know that not all carbs are the same. Sweets are simple carbs that raise blood sugar quickly and drastically. Complex carbs, like brown rice or whole grain pasta, are much better options.

Other tips to eat well are to choose foods that are lower in calories, fats, sugar and salt and to drink water instead of sugary juices and sodas. A dietitian, nurse or certified diabetes educator can assist you in finding foods that fit your new lifestyle.

Being active doesn't have to mean doing a full-blown workout. It could be something as simple as taking a walk with a friend, gardening or dancing. Just make sure to always consult your doctor when starting a new exercise regimen. And remember, diabetics must take special precautions when exercising, to ensure their blood glucose levels don't dip too low or spike too high and to avoid dehydration and physical injury. If exercise and changes in your diet don't help to lower your blood sugar, your doctor may adjust the amount of your medication or insulin or possibly the timing of when you take it.

The last step to take in your diabetes action plan is to visit your doctor for a checkup at least two times a year. Getting routine care is the best way to find and treat diabetes problems early. It's also important to visit your dental provider at least once a year, as diabetes can lead to teeth and gum problems. You should also stay current on your routine immunizations, or shots. Staying well is critical in controlling diabetes.