Diabetes checkups: Seeing your doctor regularly is key to blood sugar management

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Diabetes checkups: Why you need them, how to prepare

Regular checkups can help you and your doctor prevent diabetes complications.

Regular medical checkups are vital to your diabetes care. Your doctor looks for warning signs of diabetes complications and tests your blood and urine to help monitor your condition. The more you prepare for each diabetes checkup, the more effective your checkups will be.

When to see your doctor

How often you see your doctor or other members of your health care team depends on various factors. If you're starting a new medication or insulin injections, you'll need to see your doctor often — perhaps even daily — so that he or she can gauge how you're responding to your treatment plan.

If you're having trouble managing your blood sugar or you have diabetes-related complications, you may need to see your doctor every few weeks or months. If you're in good health and keeping your blood sugar within your target range, you may need to see your doctor only twice a year.

In addition to routine diabetes checkups, your doctor may recommend visits with a registered dietitian or a diabetes nurse educator — a registered nurse with special certification in diabetes care — to discuss your meal plan or blood sugar monitoring. You might also need checkups with an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist) or a foot specialist (podiatrist).

How to prepare for a checkup

Before each checkup, study your blood sugar record for patterns or trends. Be sure to bring the blood sugar record to your checkup. If you have questions for your doctor, jot them down ahead of time. For example, you might ask:

  • What lab tests do I need today? When will I get the results?
  • Do I have any signs or symptoms of diabetes complications?
  • Do I need to make any changes to my treatment plan?
  • Are there any new techniques or devices for injecting insulin or monitoring blood sugar?
  • Do I need to make any lifestyle changes?
  • Is the cost of my diabetes medication covered by any special programs?

If you become anxious during checkups or have trouble remembering the details, be prepared to write down the answers to your questions. You might ask a friend or loved one to accompany you to the checkup as well.

What to expect during a checkup

Your diabetes checkups are likely to include discussion, a physical exam and various lab tests.

Questions about how you're doing
Be prepared to discuss:

  • Treatment. Your doctor will review your blood sugar record, looking for patterns that warrant changes in your treatment plan. If you're having trouble following your medication regimen or eating plan, ask your doctor for suggestions.
  • Symptoms. Mention any symptoms you've experienced, such as vision problems or chest pain. These might signal new or progressing complications.
  • Other health issues. Discuss other medical problems you may have, including any medications you're taking for other conditions. Remember that chronic illness can take an emotional toll, too. Talk to your doctor about your mood and coping abilities.
  • Lifestyle changes. Let your doctor know if you've changed any health habits — such as tobacco or alcohol use — that could affect your diabetes care. Review your diet and exercise plans.

A physical exam
Your temperature, weight and blood pressure will probably be measured. During the physical exam, your doctor may pay special attention to your:

  • Eyes. Your doctor will look for damage to the retina (retinopathy).
  • Heart and lungs. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. If he or she hears anything suspicious, you may need additional tests, such an electrocardiogram (ECG) or chest X-ray.
  • Feet. Your doctor will examine your feet for cuts, blisters or other problems that could lead to infection. Bony deformities or evidence of increased pressure, such as calluses, may suggest you're at risk of more serious complications. The circulation in your feet and your sense of touch also provide important clues about your health.

Blood and urine tests
You may need various blood and urine tests to help your doctor monitor how well your treatment plan is working. The results of these tests can alert your doctor to early signs of diabetes complications, such as kidney disease.

Be an active member of your health care team

Knowing what to expect at your diabetes checkups can help you prepare for each visit. Empower yourself to take an active role in preventing diabetes complications. Also remember the importance of routine health care, such as mammograms and other screening tests. Diabetes care is critical — but it's only one element of your overall health.

Last Updated: 04/06/2007
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