Diabetes education

Diabetes self-management education is an important part of a treatment plan. Diabetes self-management education shows you how to incorporate disease management into your daily life and reduce your dependence on a health care provider.

There are three levels of diabetes education:

  1. Basic disease management, including basic "survival skills"
  2. Home management
  3. Lifestyle improvement

Basic diabetes management includes the knowledge and skills that a person who is newly diagnosed with diabetes must master before leaving the hospital or health care provider's office. These skills include:

  • Learning how to recognize and treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Learning how to recognize and treat high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • Learning how to select the right foods and when to eat them (diabetes diet)
  • Learning how to give yourself insulin or take oral hypoglycemic medications
  • Learning how to test and record blood glucose (see: blood glucose monitoring) and urine ketones
  • Learning where to buy diabetes supplies and how to store them

Home management skills will help you better control your diabetes and may prevent complications. These skills include:

  • Learning how to adjust insulin and food intake during exercise
  • Learning how to handle sick days
  • Learning diabetes foot care
  • Learning to watch for long-term complications of diabetes and how to manage related conditions (such as high blood pressure)

After you learn the basic principles of diabetes care and get into a routine (which can take several months), you may be interested in learning more about diabetes. Topics may include:

  • Alcohol use and diabetes
  • How to adjust insulin and diet for changes in meal times and routine (such as exercise)
  • How to handle eating out
  • How to change insulin doses based on blood sugar levels

It's a good idea to repeat diabetes education every year, because there is always new research to find improved ways to treat diabetes.

A certified diabetes educator (CDE) is an excellent resource for information on diabetes. This person is usually a nurse or pharmacist. Often, the diabetes educator can help you develop a management plan based on your:

  • Activity level
  • Age
  • Eating patterns
  • Medication use
  • Work/school schedule

Some medical centers offer diabetes clinics that specialize in helping patients with diabetes. These clinics often combine the resources of several experts in diabetes management, including a:

  • Certified diabetes educator
  • Diabetes nurse practitioner
  • Physician who specializes in the care of people with diabetes
  • Podiatrist
  • Registered dietitian
  • Social worker

These clinics also are a good source of information for people with diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation offer several pamphlets and brochures about diabetes. For information on educational programs and seminars, contact:

  • Hospitals and medical centers in your area
  • The American Association of Diabetes Educators
  • The American Diabetes Association
  • The American Dietetic Association
  • Your local health department

See diabetes support groups for a list of several educational and support resources.


American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 201. Diabetes Care. 2011;34:S11-S61.

Update Date: 5/22/2012

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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