Diabetes is a disease that affects multiple organ systems in the body, so managing the disease often requires the help of more than one healthcare provider. Having necessary screenings and making lifestyle changes can help you avoid complications from diabetes. If you have the disease, the types of healthcare providers who will work with you to help manage it follow.
The family physician is the cornerstone when it comes to caring for people with diabetes. As blood sugar becomes elevated, the kidneys suffer the impact of Advanced Glycosylation End Products, or AGEs. AGEs can cause damage to other organs in the body as well, including blood vessels and the eyes. So an important way to prevent complications from diabetes is to control your blood sugar.
Generally checked in patients with diabetes every three months, the hemoglobin A1C provides an estimate of the range of blood sugar over that three-month period. Generally, red blood cells live for about 120 days, and the ones exposed to increasing levels of blood sugar will undergo a type of damage called glycosylation. The hemoglobin A1C is an extremely useful tool to determine whether your diabetes is being adequately controlled, and can help determine if a change in medication is necessary.
Since people with diabetes are at an increased risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, their lipid profile is checked once a year to ensure that cholesterol is being managed well. Physicians frequently prescribe medications known as statins to help reduce cholesterol that is too high.
Physicians also perform foot exams in patients with diabetes at least once a year. Diabetes can impact the health of nerves, which results in an increased risk of the development of wounds and foot ulcers, since people with diabetes frequently will not feel wounds or cuts on the bottoms of their feet until they have progressed. Special attention must be given to the health of the feet to prevent the development of such dangerous ulcers.
In addition to causing nerve damage, diabetes can affect the blood supply to the lower extremities due to the impact of AGEs on blood vessels. A common complication is the development of foot ulcers, which can sometimes progress to a condition known as osteomyelitis, or infection of bone. If this situation advances, an amputation can occasionally be necessary. It’s best to routinely see a podiatrist for a thorough evaluation in order to avoid such serious problems.
If you have diabetes, you should see an ophthalmologist at least once a year. With damage to red blood cells, elevated levels of blood sugar can also harm your eyes. Generally, your ophthalmologist can discover problems and intervene early on if you begin to have issues with your eyes. Early detection and intervention are extremely important since the impact of AGEs on the eyes is usually permanent.
When you have difficulty controlling your blood sugar, you may need to see an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists receive special training in the management of diabetes, and can design very specific regimens to assist you with blood sugar control. They can often develop extremely unique combinations of insulin and other medications that are tailored to your specific circumstances.
Diabetes educators play a crucial role in the treatment of patients with diabetes. Patients who are struggling to understand their insulin regimens, stick to a healthful diet, increase their activity level and avoid complications of the disease may be referred to a diabetes educator for more detailed discussions about the disease, along with ongoing support and planning.
These diabetes specialists generally spend more time consulting with patients to help them have a better understanding of diabetes. Physicians may see significant improvements in their patients with diabetes who have worked with diabetes educators and received more education on their illness.