Your health care team helps you manage your diabetes and maintain your good health.
You: You are the most important member of your diabetes care team! Only you know how you feel. Your diabetes care team will depend on you to talk to them honestly and supply information about your body.
Monitoring your blood sugar tells your doctors whether your current treatment is controlling your diabetes well. By checking your blood sugar levels, you can also prevent or reduce the episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) you have.
Primary doctor: Your primary care doctor is who you see for general checkups and when you get sick. This person is usually an internist or family medicine doctor who has experience treating people with diabetes, too.
Because your primary care doctor is your main source of care, he or she will most likely head up your diabetes care team.
Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist is a doctor who has special training and experience in treating people with diabetes. You should see yours regularly.
Dietitian: A registered dietitian (RD) is trained in the field of nutrition. Food is a key part of your diabetes treatment, so yours will help you figure out your food needs based on your weight, lifestyle, medication, and other health goals (like lowering blood fat levels or blood pressure).
Nurse educator: A diabetes educator or diabetes nurse practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) with special training and background in caring for and teaching people with diabetes. Nurse educators often help you with the day-to-day aspects of living with diabetes.
Eye doctor: Either an ophthalmologist (a doctor who can treat eye problems both medically and surgically) or an optometrist (someone who is trained to examine the eye for certain problems, such as how well the eye focuses; optometrists are not medical doctors) should check your eyes at least once a year. Diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the eyes, which can lead to losing your sight.
Podiatrist: For anyone with diabetes, which can cause nerve damage in the extremities, foot care is important. A podiatrist is trained to treat feet and problems of the lower legs. These doctors have a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree from a college of podiatry. They have also done a residency (hospital training) in podiatry.
Dentist: People with diabetes are at somewhat greater, and earlier, risk of gum disease. The excess blood sugar in your mouth makes it a nice home for bacteria, which can lead to infection. You should see your dentist every 6 months. Be sure to tell your dentist that you have diabetes.
Exercise trainer: No matter what kind of diabetes you have, exercise should play a major role in managing it. The best person to plan your fitness program, along with your doctor, is someone trained in the scientific basis of exercise and in safe conditioning methods.
People with diabetes who use insulin shots usually see their doctor at least every 3 to 4 months. People who take pills or who are managing their diabetes through diet alone should have an appointment at least every 4 to 6 months.
You may need to go more often if your blood sugar isn't controlled or if your complications are getting worse.
Generally, your doctor wants to understand how well your diabetes is controlled and whether diabetic complications are starting or getting worse. Therefore, at each visit, give your doctor your home blood sugar monitoring record and tell him about any symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Also let your doctor know about any changes in your diet, exercise, or medicines and any new illnesses you may have gotten. Tell your doctor if you've had symptoms of eye, nerve, kidney, or cardiovascular problems such as:
When you have diabetes, you should get regular lab tests:
You may need thyroid and liver tests, too.
Many people who have diabetes also have an experienced primary care (or family practice) doctor or nurse practitioner who can help them manage their diabetes. For example, people with uncomplicated type 2 diabetes may never need to see a specialist because they can easily manage it with their primary care doctor’s help. Other people, however, might choose to see a specialist.
Here are 10 reasons why you might want to see an endocrinologist or diabetes care team:
1) Your doctor recommends you have an evaluation with a specialist. After you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor may recommend you see a specialist to confirm the diagnosis and make sure you know your options for managing the disease.
2) Your primary care physician has not treated many diabetes patients. If your doctor has not treated many patients with diabetes or you are unsure about their treatment, you can choose to see a specialist.
3) You are having problems communicating with your doctor. If you feel your doctor is not listening to you or understanding your symptoms, you could see a specialist who will focus primarily on your diabetes.
4) You cannot find the right educational material to help you. Treatment for diabetes starts with learning to manage your diabetes. If you can't find the right information to help you manage your diabetes, you might want to see a diabetes care team to receive diabetes education.
5) You are having complications or difficulty managing your diabetes. You should definitely see a specialist if you have developed complications. Diabetes typically causes problems with the eyes, kidney, and nerves. In addition, it can cause deformity and open sores on the feet.
Diabetes complications only get worse with time, and can cause you to miss out on quality of life. In addition, you should see a specialist if you are having frequent low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) or have ever had severe low blood sugar or diabetic ketoacidosis.
6) Conventional treatment does not work. Your primary care doctor may be doing the best they can, but the standard treatment options don't always work for everyone. Endocrinologists and diabetes care teams use a wide range of treatments to help you with difficult-to-control diabetes.
7) You want to know about the latest research or treatment options. Endocrinologists and specialty centers, like the Utah Diabetes & Endocrinology Center, are the key places that research takes place. A specialist will be aware of the latest research or treatment options.
8) You want to participate in research. If you are interested in contributing to diabetes research, you may want to contact a specialist to learn more about ongoing research studies.
9) You take three or more injections a day or use an insulin pump. The more complex your diabetes treatments become, the harder they are to manage. Seeing a specialist will ensure you are receiving the best recommendations for managing your treatment.
10) You need a care team including diabetes nurse educators, nutritionists, and possibly other specialists. Just receiving a diagnosis and learning about diabetes often is not enough to help you manage your disease. Seeing a specialist will connect you with an entire diabetes care team whose members-nurse practitioner, dietician, pharmacist, educator, and exercise physiologist-bring unique areas of expertise to help individualize your care according to your specific needs.
While primary care doctors provide good treatment for people with diabetes, if managing your condition feels complicated and unmanageable, you might want to see a specialist. Endocrinologists and diabetes care teams can provide you with their expertise, tools, and resources specific to your individual symptoms and condition. Exploring all your options will help you determine the best management plan and achieve the highest quality of life.
A diabetes specialist is called an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists specialize in the glands of the endocrine (hormone) system. The pancreas is the gland involved in diabetes. The pancreas produces insulin, and problems with insulin are what managing your diabetes is about.
Endocrinologists often work as a team with other diabetes specialists-nurse practitioners, dieticians, pharmacists, educators, and exercise physiologists-who help address every aspect of diabetes, which can be a very complicated problem to manage.