Doctors who treat diabetes
A number of different healthcare professionals treat diabetes. A good first step is to talk to your primary care doctor about testing if you’re at risk for diabetes or if you begin experiencing symptoms associated with the disease. While you may work with your primary care doctor to manage your diabetes, it’s also possible to rely on another doctor or specialist to monitor your condition.
Read on to learn about the different doctors and specialists who can assist in various aspects of diabetes diagnosis and care.
Primary care physician
Your primary care doctor can monitor you for diabetes at your regular checkups. Your doctor may perform blood tests to check for the disease, depending on your symptoms or risk factors. If you do have diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medication and manage your condition. They may also refer you to a specialist to help monitor your treatment. It’s likely that your primary care doctor will be part of a team of healthcare professionals who will work with you.
Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas gland, which is part of the endocrine system. An endocrinologist is a specialist who diagnoses, treats, and manages pancreatic diseases. People with type 1 diabetes are often under the care of an endocrinologist to help them manage their treatment plan. Sometimes, people with type 2 diabetes may also need an endocrinologist if they have trouble getting their blood glucose levels under control.
Many people with diabetes experience complications with their eyes over time. These might include:
- diabetic retinopathy, or damage to the retina
- diabetic macular edema
You must regularly visit an eye doctor, such an optometrist or ophthalmologist, to check for these potentially serious conditions. According to guidelines from the American Diabetes Association, people with type 1 diabetes should have an annual dilated comprehensive eye exam beginning five years after diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes should have this comprehensive dilated eye exam yearly beginning at diagnosis.
People with diabetes are at greater risk for kidney disease over time. A nephrologist is a doctor that specializes in the treatment of kidney disease. Your primary care doctor can do the yearly test recommended to identify kidney disease as soon as possible, but they may refer you to a nephrologist as needed. The nephrologist can help you manage kidney disease. They can also administer dialysis, treatment that is required when your kidneys aren’t functioning properly.
People with type 1 diabetes should have an annual urine protein test and an estimated glomerular filtration rate test five years after diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes and anyone with high blood pressure should have this urine protein and estimated glomular filtration rate test yearly beginning at diagnosis.
Vascular diseases that prevent blood flow to the small blood vessels are common if you have diabetes. Nerve damage may also occur with longstanding diabetes. Since restricted blood flow and nerve damage can affect the feet in particular, you should make regular visits to a podiatrist. With diabetes, you may also have a reduced ability to heal blisters and cuts, even minor ones. A podiatrist can monitor your feet for any serious infections that could lead to gangrene and amputation. These visits do not take the place of daily foot checks you do yourself.
People with type 1 diabetes should visit a podiatrist to have an annual foot exam beginning five years after diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes should have this foot exam yearly beginning at diagnosis. This exam should include a monofilament test along with a pinprick, temperature, or vibration sensation test.
Physical trainer or exercise physiologist
It’s important to stay active and get enough exercise to manage your blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight and healthy blood vessels. Getting help from a professional can help you get the most out of your exercise routine and motivate you to stick with it.
Your diet plays a very important role in managing diabetes. It’s the thing that many people with diabetes say is the hardest for them to understand and manage. If you have trouble finding the right diet to help control your blood sugar, get the help of a registered dietitian. They can help you create an eating plan that fits your specific needs.
No matter which doctor or healthcare professional you see first, it’s important to be prepared. That way, you can make the most of your time there. Call ahead and see if there is anything you need to do to prepare, such as fasting for a blood test. Make a list of all your symptoms and any medications you are taking. Write down any questions you have before your appointment. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
- What tests will I need to check for diabetes?
- How will you know what type of diabetes I have?
- What type of medication will I have to take?
- How much does treatment cost?
- What can I do to control my diabetes?
There is no cure for diabetes. Managing the disease is a lifelong endeavor. In addition to working with your doctors to coordinate treatment, joining a support group may help you better cope with diabetes. Several national organizations offer an online community, as well as information about various groups and programs available in cities across the country. Here are a few web resources to check out:
- American Diabetes Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- National Diabetes Education Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Diabetes Public Health Resource
Your doctor may also be able to provide resources for support groups and organizations in your area.