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Regular tests are especially vital if you have diabetes. Without proper control, your health is at risk.
Regular appointments with your health care providers will keep you on top of your blood sugar numbers and other important steps for managing your diabetes. Your doctor and other providers will monitor your overall health and guide you to a specialist if needed.
Complications often start out with a small, negative change that can easily grow. Routine health checkups and tests allow you to find out about changes before they become serious problems. Talking with your doctor regularly also gives you the chance to:
Your doctor will help you figure out what tests you need and when. Here are some of the most important tests and exams people with diabetes need.
A1c The A1c test shows average blood sugar levels over the previous two to three months. It shows how well your diabetes is controlled. Not everyone knows their A1c number or grasps what it means. You may think your sugars are under control because you look at one daily blood sugar check taken at the same time of day every day. But if you don’t happen to be testing at a time of day when your blood sugar level is high, you may not get the whole picture. That’s why the A1c test is important — it does show the whole picture.
Eye ExamsPeople with diabetes face eye problems that can lead to eyesight loss. A yearly eye exam can help catch those problems early. Diabetes can cause an eye problem called diabetic retinopathy. It causes harm to the eye’s retina, a thin layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. When light strikes the retina, it sends a signal to the brain that is turned into images.
Warning signs of diabetic retinopathy include:
In the early stages, there are often no signs. That’s why it’s so important to have an eye exam each year.
Blood Tests for AnemiaWith diabetes, you’ll need to have regular blood checks for anemia, a low amount of red blood cells. About 25 percent of Americans with diabetes also have anemia. The risk of getting anemia grows the longer you have diabetes. If you find out early, you can handle what’s causing it earlier. Anemia can cause complications like nerve and eye damage. And it can make things like heart, artery and kidney disease — common in people with diabetes — worse.
See Your DentistResearch shows that there is a greater risk of gum disease among those with diabetes. It’s best to take good care of your teeth and gums and have dental checkups every six months.
Check Your FeetPay attention to pain, tingling or numbness in your feet, or a sore that doesn’t heal. That may signal nerve damage. Checking your feet every day could save you from serious complications. Reach out to your doctor with any concerns. You may be referred to a podiatrist for more care.
Make Sure You're Injecting Insulin CorrectlyInsulin will only work well if it is injected correctly. Whether you’re new to injecting insulin or have been injecting insulin for so long that you don’t give it a second thought, it is very important to review the right way to do it with your doctor or nurse at least once a year and when your treatment changes.
You know you need to check your blood sugar regularly, but do you know you also need an A1c test? Blood glucose numbers only give a quick snapshot of blood sugar control. For a more in-depth picture, you need to know your hemoglobin A1c.
It gives you information about your average blood sugar levels over the last two or three months. It even measures what your blood sugar was when you were asleep.
Why Does A1c Matter?
It’s vital to know your average levels over time. High levels are linked to serious health problems and long-term complications, including eye, kidney, nerve and heart disease. These health problems can happen slowly, without you knowing it. Even a small improvement in your A1c level can significantly reduce your risk for complications.
What Can Change Your A1c? Some things that can make your number go up or down:
What If My A1c Is Out of Target Range? First, talk to your doctor. You can work together to set goals and reach those goals. But your team includes others, too. You may work with a:
Support from Your Team Your team can coach, support and empower you through all your challenges. But remember that your health depends on you. Diabetes calls for a lifetime of learning and relearning. It is all a part of the process of living with diabetes.
Originally published October 15, 2019; Revised 2020
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