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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.

A1C test

This blood test shows the average amount of glucose in your blood during the past 2 to 3 months. The results indicate how well your blood glucose is controlled and whether your treatment plan needs any changes. The A1C target for many people is less than 7%, but this target may vary depending on your age, duration of diabetes, and other risk factors.

How often: At least 2 times a year if you are at your goal with stable glycemia; more often in people whose therapy has changed or who are 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—big problems for people with diabetes. Most people with diabetes will be advised to 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 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

Dental checkup

Having diabetes puts you at increased risk for tooth and gum problems. As a result, it’s especially 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 temporarily 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 licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist

Foot exam

Nerve damage, poor blood flow, and infections resulting from diabetes can cause foot problems. Nerve damage can lead to a loss of feeling in the feet or cause ulcers to develop. Poor circulation can mean that sores or infections heal slowly. If these problems aren’t treated promptly, 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 sense of feeling and circulation in your feet.

How often: Once a year for the comprehensive exam

Kidney function tests

Diabetes can damage the kidneys and eventually 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 working properly.

How often: Once a year

Medical Reviewers:

  • Hurd, Robert, MD
  • Sather, Rita, RN
  • Turley, Raymond Kent, BSN, MSN, RN