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Diabetes: Tests to Watch for Complications

Topic Overview

The table below summarizes many of the tests that can be done to identify complications from diabetes, including those tests done during a physical exam. The physical exam evaluates your overall health. The doctor pays special attention to your eyes, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves, abdomen, and feet.

Complications from diabetes and the tests used to detect them footnote 1

Organ or condition

Test



What it shows

Target level

High blood sugar

Every 3 to 6 months, have a hemoglobin A1c test.

How steady your blood sugar levels have been over time

Less than 7% for most nonpregnant adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and children with type 2 diabetes

Less than 7.5% for youth younger than 18 years old with type 1 diabetes

(Your goal may be lower or higher, based on your health and age.)

High blood pressure

Every 3 to 6 months when you visit your doctor, have your blood pressure checked. If you don't see your doctor that often, at least have your blood pressure checked once a year.

Pressure of blood flow in your arteries

Your doctor will give you a goal based on your health and your age.

Kidneys

Every year, have your urine checked for the protein albumin. Also, have your blood checked for the waste product creatinine.

A glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is usually calculated using a formula that includes a person's age, gender, race, and blood creatinine level.

Whether kidney disease is developing

Less than 30 mg/g of protein in your urine

GFR 90 mL/min or above

Eyes

Every year, visit an ophthalmologist or an optometrist for a dilated eye exam (ophthalmoscopy). Some doctors may recommend less frequent eye exams (for example, every 2 years) if you have no signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Whether retinopathy (damage to back of the eye) has developed

No retinal damage

Feet

Every 3 to 6 months when you visit your doctor, take off your socks so you will both remember to check your feet. Once a year, get a more thorough examination of your feet. This is also known as a complete foot exam.

Whether foot ulcers have developed

Whether the person has lost any sensation

No foot ulcers or loss of sensation

Teeth

Twice a year, have a dental exam.

Gum disease

Healthy gums and teeth

Thyroid

If you have high cholesterol, or if you are a woman over 50 years old, your doctor may recommend a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test.

Thyroid disease

Normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level

Liver

Your doctor may recommend a liver function blood test, especially if you are taking a medicine that could affect your liver.

Liver disease

Normal liver function test

High cholesterol

Your doctor may recommend a cholesterol test when you are first diagnosed with diabetes or at age 40.

Along with other measures, cholesterol levels can help you know your risk for heart attack or stroke.

The goal in treating cholesterol is to lower your chance of having a heart attack or a stroke. The goal is not just to lower your cholesterol numbers.

References

Citations

  1. American Diabetes Association (2019). Standards of medical care in diabetes—2019. Diabetes Care, 42(Suppl 1): S1–S193. Accessed December 17, 2018.

Credits

Current as ofApril 16, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Matthew I. Kim MD - Endocrinology
David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology

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