Putting Together a Diabetes Team
People who have diabetes can benefit from seeing a diabetes educator or registered dietitian. Learn who to see and how to assemble your medical team.
Most people feel a whirlwind of emotions when they find out they have diabetes. Shock, denial, anger and sadness are common feelings. But with proper control, diabetes can be managed.
The challenge of diabetes is maintaining 24-hour blood sugar control. This can be hard to do because your blood sugar levels rise and fall throughout the day.
Putting together a medical team that you trust and can work with is one of the most important first steps. Your medical team will help you control your blood sugar levels so you can avoid complications, such as nerve, eye, kidney and blood vessel damage.
Below are the common players on the medical team.
Primary care doctor
This is who you will see for regular checkups and when you get sick. Most people with diabetes have a primary care doctor who is a family practice or internal medicine doctor, or a pediatrician for children. Find a doctor who has experience treating patients with diabetes and who takes the time to listen to your concerns and answer your questions.
Some people with diabetes see an endocrinologist. This is a doctor who has advanced education and training in diseases (like diabetes) that affect your glands. Diabetes affects your pancreas, a gland that produces the hormone insulin. An endocrinologist may act as your primary care doctor, helping manage your diabetes and blood sugar levels by prescribing insulin, medications and lifestyle changes. He or she also often treats complex diabetes that involves many body systems or is difficult to control. Pediatric endocrinologists have further training in treating children.
Your primary care doctor can help you find the other members of your diabetes care team.
Diabetes educator, also called nurse educator
A diabetes educator will guide you through day-to-day techniques for dealing with diabetes. This includes things such as how to take insulin or other medicine, measure your blood glucose levels and plan meals and exercise. A diabetes educator is also often a registered dietitian.
Eating the right foods is a critical part of your diabetes therapy. Your diabetes educator or doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian who can answer many of your questions about your diet and treatment plan.
This can be either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. Eye disease is common with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association guidelines say you should see your eye doctor at least once a year, starting right after you are diagnosed.
People with diabetes may be at higher risk for gum disease. When diabetes is poorly controlled, the levels of sugar in your blood are just as high in your saliva. This can lead to the growth of bacteria and cause infection. Brush and floss, and see your dentist at least every six months.
Your primary care doctor will give you instructions for a daily routine that includes inspecting your feet. It’s important to take care of any kind of injury right away, because foot injuries in people with diabetes can be very hard to heal. If you have circulatory problems or nerve damage in your feet, your primary care doctor may refer you to a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in foot care and treatment.
High blood sugar levels can damage kidneys over time. So primary care doctors sometimes recommend that people with diabetes see a nephrologist, a doctor that has advanced education in conditions involving the kidneys. A nephrologist can check to see whether your kidneys are working normally. He or she can also regularly monitor your kidney function and recommend treatment, if needed.
Be sure to look into your insurance benefits before you consult a specialist. You may need a referral from your primary doctor.