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7 Routine Tests to Get After a Diabetes Diagnosis

7 Routine Tests to Get After a Diabetes Diagnosis

Keeping tabs on these vital stats will help you manage your condition.

A diabetes diagnosis is the beginning of a new road to travel, and the routine stops along the way include those for regular testing.

You’ll receive tests to make sure that your medications and lifestyle changes are working to keep your blood glucose levels under control and to help catch early stages of diabetes-related complications. And because diabetes affects all systems in your body, you’ll likely receive tests that involve everything from your eyes to your heart to your feet.

Here are some of the most common tests, along with how frequently you might need them and why they are administered.

Tests to get at any appointment
Diabetes and high blood pressure often co-occur and worsen each other. For this reason, blood pressure is measured at your regular diabetes exam every 3 to 6 months and at any health care visit. A reading of less than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal by the American Heart Association, but since treatment guidelines may vary you should ask your doctor for the target numbers that fit your profile.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also key to limiting complications from diabetes, so expect a weigh-in at every diabetes-related or other health care visit.

Specific body part exams you’ll likely need
Eyes: You should have an annual eye exam because complications from diabetes can affect vision, even leading to blindness. If you already have a diabetes-related eye condition, you will see your eye doctor more frequently.

Feet: One potential complication of diabetes is loss of feeling in the feet, which can put you at risk for foot injuries, including cuts or sores that you don’t realize you have. Because of poor circulation, these sores may not heal, leading to further complications.

Request a foot check at each healthcare visit. You should also examine your feet yourself, every day if possible, keeping an eye out in particular for redness, broken skin, blisters, warm spots or swelling.

Your feet can also tell your doctor about your overall circulation and your nervous system. Your healthcare provider should test your pulse and nerves at the ankle and your foot reflexes at least annually.

What blood testing looks for
HbA1c: One of the tests involved in your diagnosis of diabetes will also play a role in monitoring your status. This test, called HbA1c, measures how much of your hemoglobin has glucose bound to it. (Hemoglobin is a substance in your red blood cells that shuttles oxygen from your lungs throughout your body.) Results from the test show how well your blood sugar has been controlled in the preceding three months.

The ideal target value of the test will vary depending on your specific situation, but a common goal is for less than 7 percent of your hemoglobin to have glucose attached. Values outside your target indicate that your blood sugar is not under good control. The HbA1c test might be done in a doctor’s office or lab or possibly with a kit at home.

Fats: Another blood test you’ll have done at least every five years, if not annually, is for cholesterol and triglycerides. Poor values for both are tied to heart disease and stroke, both leading causes of death for people with diabetes.

You will have this test done in a lab, after fasting overnight. For patients with diabetes, clinicians want to see an overall cholesterol number under 200 mg/dl. Levels of the “bad” form of cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), should be under 100 mg/dl. For patients already at risk for heart disease, a reading of 70 mg/dl or less is the target for LDL cholesterol.

For the “good” form of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL), an acceptable reading is 50 mg/dl or more for women and 40 mg/dl or more for men. Triglycerides, which are fats we get from our diets and that our bodies also make, should come in under 150 mg/dl.

Checking for kidney function
Diabetes is hard on the kidneys, which can be overwhelmed by the excess blood glucose and the high blood pressure that can co-occur with the disease. In fact, the leading cause of kidney failure in the United States and Canada is diabetes. For this reason, each year, your doctor will check your urine for signs of kidney dysfunction.

Kidneys are our bodies’ filtration systems, and they aren’t supposed to let proteins filter through. The urine test you’ll receive is designed to detect a protein called albumin, which the liver produces. The presence of more than a little of this protein in the urine indicates that the kidneys are struggling.

It’s also recommended that you receive a blood test to look for a substance called creatinine, which builds up in the blood if the kidneys are faltering. The creatinine level is considered along with several other factors—including your age, sex and race—to calculate an important value known as the estimated glomerular filtration rate.

The kidneys each contain about a million tiny units—the glomeruli—that filter waste from the blood. Creatinine is one of those wastes. If the tiny units aren’t working well, creatinine will build up in the blood, leading to higher than normal values. A low estimated glomerular filtration rate also signals struggling kidneys.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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