Diabetes affects a person's blood sugar levels and can require various treatments. Understanding which doctors help treat diabetes can simplify the process and make it less stressful.
This article helps people with diabetes to understand the key differences between the various diabetes specialists and what to expect during a consultation.
A number of specialists may play a role in treating someone with diabetes.
Each specialist has a slightly different role, and there are some key things to be aware of before seeing each one.
General care physicians
A general care physician will often help in the treatment of people with diabetes.
A person's family doctor may be the person who first notices that they have high blood sugar levels.
This often emerges during routine screening.
The person will usually see their doctor for regular check-ups every 3 to 4 months.
If there is anything outside their area of expertise, a general care physician will probably start by referring the individual to an endocrinologist.
The most common specialists in the field of diabetes are endocrinologists.
Endocrinologists specialize in hormonal issues and the glands that produce these hormones.
Diabetes develops when the pancreas no longer produces insulin in the way it should do. The pancreas is a gland, and insulin is a hormone. The pancreas produces the insulin we need to regulate blood sugar. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas either does not produce insulin or the insulin does not work properly.
When seeing a doctor about diabetes for the first time, it is a good idea to prepare for the consultation.
Keeping a journal
For at least a week before the appointment, an individual should keep a journal of any symptoms they have, whether these relate to diabetes or not.
A doctor will use the journal as a reference when creating an individual treatment plan. This is crucial as every case of diabetes is different, and each person will need a different treatment plan.
For some visits, and especially a first-time visit, a person may need to take a fasting blood glucose test. It is important to ask for clear instructions before the appointment day.
Fasting for a blood test means not eating or drinking anything but water for at least 8 hours before the test.
It is best to schedule fasting tests early in the morning. In this way, the person will spend the 8 hours without food overnight, when they are asleep.
It is helpful to bring a notebook, smartphone, or laptop when visiting the doctor for the first time. It will help to keep track of any important points and any questions or tips that come up.
Properly preparing for the first visit to a doctor can help make sure it is as productive as possible, and that it clarifies diabetes and its various complications.
A doctor or endocrinologist can help people with diabetes to understand the best course of treatment for them, but this is just one aspect of managing the condition.
Diabetes is a complex condition. Having a larger support network of relevant specialists can improve the quality of treatment.
A dietitian can work with a person who has diabetes to find a balanced diet that suits their lifestyle.
Understanding the roles of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the body is important for diabetes management.
The dietitian can advise the person on details such as:
- how much of each nutrient they need
- the best sources of these nutrients
- how to spread these nutrients throughout the day
They can also discuss:
- the best methods for managing portion size
- tips for dining out with diabetes
- ways to manage blood sugar successfully
Dietitians can also train people in self-management skills for:
- testing blood glucose at home
- administering injections
- managing high or low blood sugar
Certified Diabetes Educators
Certified Diabetes Educators (CDE) are health professionals with extensive knowledge and experience of the latest news and practices for managing or preventing diabetes and prediabetes.
They have specialized training in how to educate people about managing their diabetes in order to optimize their health in the future.
Visiting a CDE can also help people with diabetes to understand their condition.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of kidney disease over time than someone without the condition. For this reason, a doctor may recommend regular testing to monitor kidney function. A general doctor will normally carry this out.
If a doctor finds something that needs closer inspection, they may refer a person to a nephrologist for additional tests.
A nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in taking care of the kidneys.
Physical activity plays an important role in the management of diabetes. Current guidelines recommend that adults should spend at least 150 minutes a week on moderate-intensity, aerobic exercise or 75 minutes on vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.
Regular exercise can:
- help maintain blood sugar levels
- help promote a healthy weight
- keep the circulatory system strong
People can work with a physical trainer to create a personalized exercise program that works for them.
People with diabetes may benefit from seeing a podiatrist regularly. Common complications of diabetes include nerve damage and circulatory problems. These can increase the risk of a minor wound becoming an infection.
If a wound remains untreated, or if a person does not notice it, ulceration can result. In severe cases, an amputation may be necessary.
The loss of sensation may mean that the person does not notice a blister or other wound. Common areas where this occurs include the legs and feet.
A podiatrist can spot the signs of a problem that might get bigger and help the person to resolve it in the early stages.
They may also carry out toenail trimming and other routine care. This can reduce the risk of the person injuring themselves while taking care of their feet.
Learn more here about how diabetes can affect the feet.
Diabetes can affect the eyes, and a person may benefit from regular checkups with an eye doctor, or ophthalmologist.
People with diabetes are more likely to develop an eye condition, such as:
An ophthalmologist will check for early signs of eye disorders.
This helps to prevent them or treat them early, before complications arise.
What is the link between diabetes and blurry vision? Learn more here.
People with diabetes may also have a higher risk of gum disease than those without the condition. If a gum infection occurs, it can worsen quickly and lead to further complications.
It also takes longer for infections and wounds to heal when a person has diabetes.
Proper dental hygiene can help to prevent gum disease, and regular visits to a dentist can track any changes in gum health.
A dentist can help the person decide on a new or improved treatment plan.
Seeing a specialist for diabetes is not always necessary. Many people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels on their own, at home.
Sometimes, however, a complication arises that needs specialist help, or the person may have concerns that a general physician cannot advise on.
A person may wish to see a specialist when:
- regular treatment options are no longer effective
- new symptoms appear
- symptoms recur or worsen
- they need help with complex daily treatments such as insulin pumps or multiple injections
- they feel confused by educational materials or medication
- they have difficulty finding the right insulin levels or treatments
- they hear about new treatment options that may help
- they need help understanding and managing a healthful diet
- they wish to participate in experimental research or case studies
General care physicians will do all they can to assist an individual in the treatment of diabetes. However, there are times when a specialist is appropriate. At this point, the doctor will refer the individual to a specialist.
Does most insurance cover visits to a specialist for diabetes?
Every insurance policy is different so check with your insurance company to confirm that they cover. Most insurances will cover specialists but may require a referral from your primary care physician. There may be other requirements and stipulations before a policy will cover specialists.Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.