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Putting Together a Diabetes Care Team

People with diabetes can benefit from seeing a diabetes educator or registered dietitian. Learn how to assemble your medical team.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer

There is no such thing as “a touch of” diabetes. It can affect almost every part of your body, including your heart, kidneys, eyes and legs.

But diabetes is manageable. Make sure you get a team of professionals working with you and with one another. Each one can address a different aspect of the disease and help you manage it. Together, you can make sure to keep your blood sugar levels where they should be. And you can tackle any complications that may arise. Even better, you can work together to try to prevent these complications in the first place.

Your team may include some or all of the following:

  • Primary care doctor. Your primary care physician is the person you see for regular checkups or when you get sick. He or she may be a family doctor (all ages), internist (adults) or pediatrician (children). If you don’t have an endocrinologist on your team, choose a primary care doctor who sees many people with diabetes. Your primary care doctor may also be the person who refers you to specialists.

  • Endocrinologist. Some people with diabetes may have an endocrinologist on their care team. This doctor specializes in treating diabetes and diseases that affect the endocrine system. People with type 1 diabetes usually see an endocrinologist. If you have type 2 diabetes and are having difficulty controlling your diabetes, or if your complications are severe, you may want to see an endocrinologist.

  • Registered dietitian nutritionist. A healthy diet is a vital part of diabetes care. A registered dietitian nutritionist, who is trained and has passed a national exam, can help. Dietitians can teach you how foods affect your blood sugar and fat levels. They can give you advice on how to balance eating with medications and activity, how to plan meals and how to read labels. They can suggest how to eat if you’re sick and how to plan for eating out.

  • Diabetes educator. This is a health care professional with special training in diabetes. They can include nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, exercise physiologists and podiatrists. They can help you manage the day-to-day aspects of the disease. They can teach you how to give yourself insulin shots, test your blood sugar and recognize signs of high or low blood sugar.

  • Eye doctor. Diabetes can cause vision problems because it affects the blood vessels in the eyes. It can eventually cause blindness. An eye doctor can help catch the problems early, when treatments have a good chance of success. An eye doctor can be either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.

  • Foot doctor. Also known as a podiatrist, a foot doctor can help you fight potential infections and complications of poor blood flow. Both problems are associated with diabetes. Even small sores or calluses can turn into serious problems.

  • Dentist. Diabetes can contribute to gum disease. That’s because of the higher level of blood sugar in the mouth. Watch for swollen, tender or bleeding gums, which are early signs of disease. Visit your dentist every six months — or more frequently if he or she recommends. Make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes.

  • Mental health professional. Diabetes is a tough disease. It may cause a lot of stress and worry. A trained professional can steer you through the emotional waters of diabetes and give you an outlet for your concerns. This person may be a social worker, a psychologist, a psychiatrist or a marriage and family therapist.

  • Pharmacist. Pharmacists are highly trained in drugs and chemistry. They know how different medicines interact. They can advise you on whether you might have side effects with a certain drug. Ask them about potential problems with taking even an over-the-counter drug with your diabetes medicines.

Finally, count yourself as the most important member of your team. You can help your care team come up with a plan that will work for you. Report any problems or concerns. Then make the right choices every day to take care of your health.

Sources:

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes-2015. Diabetes Care. 2015. 38, S1-S99. Accessed: October 28, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Living with diabetes: Your health care team. Accessed: October 28, 2015.
National Diabetes Education Program. 4 steps to control your diabetes. For life. Accessed: October 28, 2015.

Last Updated: October 28, 2015