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Learning About Tests When You Have Diabetes

Why do you need regular diabetes tests?

Diabetes can be hard on your body if it's not well controlled. But having tests on a regular schedule can help you and your doctor find problems early, when it's easier to start managing them.

What tests do you need?

The tests you may have, how often you should have them, and the goals of the tests are:

A1c blood test. This test shows the average level of blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months. It helps your doctor see whether blood sugar levels have been staying within your target range.

  • How often: Every 3 to 6 months
  • Goal: A blood sugar level in your target range

Blood pressure test: This test measures the pressure of blood flow in the arteries. Controlling blood pressure can help prevent damage to nerves and blood vessels.

  • How often: Every 3 to 6 months
  • Goal: A blood pressure level in your target range. The CDA recommends:
    • Less than 130/80.

Cholesterol test: This test measures the amount of a type of fat in the blood. It is common for people with diabetes to also have high cholesterol. Too much cholesterol in the blood can build up inside the blood vessels and raise the risk for heart attack and stroke.

  • How often: At the time of your diabetes diagnosis and once a year after that
  • Goal: A cholesterol level in your target range. The CDA recommends:
    • LDL 2.0 mmol/L or less.

Albumin-creatinine ratio test: This test checks for kidney damage by looking for the protein albumin (say "al-BYOO-mun") in the urine. Albumin is normally found in the blood. Kidney damage can let small amounts of it (microalbumin) leak into the urine.

  • How often: Once a year
  • Goal: Less than 2.0 mg/mmol

Blood creatinine test/estimated glomerular filtration (eGFR): The blood creatinine (say "kree-AT-uh-neen") level shows how well your kidneys are working. Creatinine is a waste product that muscles release into the blood. Blood creatinine is used to estimate the glomerular filtration rate. A high level may mean your kidneys are not working as well as they should.

  • How often: Once a year
  • Goal: Normal level of creatinine in the blood. The eGFR goal is greater than than 60 mL/min.

Complete foot examination: The doctor checks for foot sores and whether any sensation has been lost.

  • How often: Once a year
  • Goal: Healthy feet with no foot ulcers or loss of feeling

Dental examination and cleaning: The dentist checks for gum disease and tooth decay. People with high blood sugar are more likely to have these problems.

  • How often: Your dentist will recommend how often to have routine checkups. Most people should see their dentist once or twice a year.
  • Goal: Healthy teeth and gums

Complete eye examination: High blood sugar levels can damage the eyes. This examination is done by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. It includes a dilated eye examination. The examination shows whether there's damage to the back of the eye (diabetic retinopathy).

  • How often: Once a year. If you don't have any signs of diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may recommend an examination every 2 years.
  • Goal: No damage to the back of the eye

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test: This test checks for thyroid disease. Too little thyroid hormone can cause some medicines (like insulin) to stay in the body longer. This can cause low blood sugar. You may be tested if you are a woman with type 1 diabetes who had a baby 6 to 8 weeks earlier.

  • How often: As often as your doctor recommends
  • Goal: Normal level of TSH in the blood

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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