Diabetes: Tests You Need and Why
Diabetes is a condition that can affect your whole body. When your blood glucose stays
too high for too long, it can lead to problems with your heart, blood vessels, eyes,
nerves, and kidneys. By getting regular tests and checkups, you can help control your
glucose level and prevent or delay damage caused by high blood glucose. Watching your
health closely lets you react to problems early before they get more serious.
Here’s a list of several diabetes-related tests and checkups, as well as guidelines
for how often each one is needed. Keep in mind that you may need more frequent testing
or checkups if you have signs of problems. Your healthcare provider can suggest the
best schedule for you.
This blood test shows the average amount of glucose in your blood during the past
2 to 3 months. The results show how well your blood glucose is controlled and if your
treatment plan needs any changes. The A1C target level for many people is less than
7%. But this target level may vary depending on your age, how long you have had diabetes,
and other risk factors.
How often: At least 2 times a year if you are at your goal with stable glycemia. More
often if your therapy has changed or you're not meeting glycemic goals.
Blood lipids test
This blood test checks for several types of fat in your blood. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
can narrow or block blood vessels. This can possibly lead to a heart attack or stroke.
These are big problems for people with diabetes. Most people with diabetes will be
advised to eat a low-fat, heart-healthy diet and take statin medicines to lower cholesterol
levels. Your total cholesterol should be lower than 200 mg/dl. And your LDL level
should be lower than 100 mg/dl. If you have both diabetes and cardiovascular disease,
your LDL level should be lower than 70 mg/dl. Triglycerides are another type of harmful
fat that raise your risk for heart attack and stroke. Aim for a fasting triglyceride
level lower than 150 mg/dl. HDL (“good”) cholesterol helps keep your blood vessels
healthy. Your HDL level should be higher than 40 mg/dl for men. Or higher than 50
mg/dl for women.
How often: At least once a year
Blood pressure test
Controlling your blood pressure helps prevent heart, blood vessel, eye, and kidney
problems. The target for adults with diabetes is a blood pressure reading lower than
130/80 mm Hg. Both numbers matter. The first one is the pressure as your heart beats
and pushes blood into your blood vessels. The second one is the pressure as your heart
rests between beats.
How often: At every healthcare provider visit
Having diabetes puts you at higher risk for tooth and gum problems. So it’s very important
to have your teeth cleaned and checked at your dentist’s office on a regular basis.
How often: At least twice a year
Dilated eye exam
High blood glucose and high blood pressure can harm the eyes. In a dilated eye exam,
an eye care provider puts drops in your eyes to briefly enlarge your pupils. This
makes it easier for the provider to look inside your eyes for signs of damage.
How often: Once a year by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist
Nerve damage, poor blood flow, and infections due to diabetes can cause foot problems.
Nerve damage can lead to a loss of feeling in the feet. Or it can cause ulcers to
develop. Poor circulation can mean that sores or infections heal slowly. If these
problems aren’t treated right away, they can lead to serious infection or amputation.
At every healthcare provider visit, have your feet checked for sores. In addition,
you should have a more comprehensive foot exam so that your provider can check the
feeling and circulation in your feet.
How often: Once a year for the comprehensive exam
Kidney function tests
Diabetes can damage the kidneys and over time cause kidney failure. Various tests
can help find kidney problems before they become severe. One test checks for a protein
called microalbumin in the urine, an early sign of kidney disease. Another test checks
for creatinine in the blood, a waste product that builds up when the kidneys aren’t
How often: Once a year