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Your essential diabetes checklist: All the tests you need, why and how often

Regular checkups are an important part of caring for your diabetes for several reasons. The biggest reason is that things change over time, and your doctor can help you adjust when they do. Weight loss or gain, medication additions or a change in self-management habits can impact blood glucose control and necessitate a change in your diabetes plan. In addition, Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease meaning that over time, the pancreas makes less insulin, and your body becomes unable to use the insulin that it does make. This often means your medication regimen will need to be modified over time.

Regular checkups are necessary to:

  • Determine if your diabetes management plan is keeping your hemoglobin A1C (average blood glucose over the last 2-3 months) in the target range of 7% or less. Reviewing your meal plan, medications and exercise routine with your provider can help determine what is working and what may need to be changed.
  • Monitor for complications that can occur with high blood glucoses. Having an A1C of 7% or less reduces your risk of developing complications from diabetes. And the earlier complications are detected, the sooner they can be taken care of. 

Below is a list of what your regular diabetes checkups should entail.

Test/ExamGoalHow Often
A1C  
The A1C test measures your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months.
7% or lessEvery 3-6 months
Blood pressure
High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and eye, kidney and nerve complications.
140/90 or lessEvery visit
Cholesterol
People with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease. Statin medications can help lower this risk by lowering your cholesterol.
Discuss your cholesterol goals with your provider.Every year
Dental exam
Diabetes increases your risk of developing periodontal (gum) disease, an infection of your gums and bones that can lead to tooth loss.
Healthy teeth and gumsEvery six months or more frequently if you have periodontal disease
Diabetes education or medical nutrition therapy
Studies show that people who meet with a certified diabetes care and education specialist or registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes have better self-management skills and lower A1C levels.
Learn how to manage your diabetes with current, evidence-based information.When you are diagnosed; When you are not meeting your A1C goal  
Eye exam
When your blood sugar levels are too high for too long, changes can occur in the blood vessels of your retina. This is known as diabetic retinopathy and, left untreated, can lead to blindness. A dilated retina exam can spot trouble early.
Prevent eye disease and blindnessEvery year if your last exam was not normal; Every two years if your last exam was normal  
Foot exam
Decreased circulation and changes in the blood vessels of your feet and lower legs can cause damage. Even if you regularly check your feet for cuts, sores or infections, your provider should also assess them at regular checkups.
Prevent foot damage and amputationsEvery year if last exam was normal; Every visit if you have foot problems
Kidney health
High blood sugars can damage your kidneys, causing them to “leak” abnormal protein from your blood into your urine. Left unchecked, this can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis.
Urine albumin to creatinine ratio less than 30 mg/g   eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) greater than 60Every year
Vaccines
Even when well-managed, diabetes makes it harder for your immune system to fight infections. This puts you at risk for more serious complications from illnesses than those who do not have diabetes. Make sure you are up to date on these vaccines: Influenza (flu), hepatitis B and pneumococcal    
Staying healthyFlu vaccine: every year; Hepatitis B vaccine: 2 or 3 dose series, depending on vaccine; Pneumococcal vaccine: one-time dose over age 65, or one-time revaccination if you received a dose before age 60
Weight
If you’re overweight and have type 2 diabetes, losing even 10 pounds can help lower your blood sugar and blood pressure, and improve your cholesterol levels.
BMI 25 or lessEvery visit

If you see both a primary care provider and another specialist, it is important that your care is coordinated, and your regular diabetes checkups get done. The more you understand about managing your diabetes and take an active role in your care, the healthier you will be.

Find diabetes education and support near you today.

About the author

Barbara Kocurek, PharmD, BCPS, CDCES, FADCES
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Barbara Kocurek is the director of strategic initiatives for Baylor Scott & White Health and has been a certified diabetes care and education specialist for almost 30 years.

Your essential diabetes checklist: All the tests you need, why and how often