There are many healthcare providers who can diagnose and treat diabetes. While most people may see a primary care doctor if they start having symptoms of diabetes, other physicians and specialists can also help monitor the condition.
Doctors who treat diabetes
The following are doctors and specialists who are capable of assisting in the general and different aspects of diabetes care.
Primary Care Doctor
People may see a primary care doctor or a family practitioner when they get sick or when having general checkups. A specialist called an endocrinologist has special training in diagnosing and treating diabetes. However, if you cannot find an endocrinologist in your area, you can alternatively look for a primary care doctor, who can either be an internist or a family practitioner.
Depending on your signs, symptoms, and risk factors, the doctor may request certain blood tests to check for the disease. Regular checkups are often recommended once every 3-4 months. Those with diabetes may be prescribed medications to help manage their symptoms and overall condition.
Primary care doctors can also refer their patients to other doctors or specialists to help monitor the treatment process. There are also other healthcare providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, who can provide primary care. In most cases, a primary care doctor is a part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.
An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the endocrine system and diabetes. Aside from diabetes, endocrinologists also deal with diseases of the different glands of the body, such as the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and pituitary gland, and the hormones that these glands produce.
When it comes to managing diabetes, the pancreas is the gland that particularly comes under the spotlight. The pancreas produces insulin, which helps in blood sugar regulation. In people with diabetes, insulin may not be produced or does not properly work.
It may not be necessary to see an endocrinologist for diabetes care and management. However, those with type 1 diabetes mostly see an endocrinologist, particularly when they are initially diagnosed with the disease. People with type 2 diabetes also see an endocrinologist if they develop severe complications or if they have a difficulty in controlling their diabetes.
An eye doctor can either be an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. People with diabetes tend to develop eye problems, particularly blood vessel damage in the eyes.
According to the guidelines set by the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes should see an eye doctor at least once a year. Having regular eye checkups can help in the early detection and treatment of diabetic eye disease.
People with diabetes may also need to regularly see a podiatrist, who is a health professional trained in the treatment of feet and lower leg problems. When there is poor diabetes control, there is also poor blood flow, which can lead to nerve damage in the feet and lower legs. This disorder is called diabetic neuropathy, which makes people with diabetes unable to feel pain, cold, or heat in their lower extremities.
People with diabetes are prone to developing diabetic neuropathy, making them more susceptible to having serious foot infections. For this reason, any feet or leg problems in people with diabetes should be checked by a podiatrist or a primary care doctor as soon as possible for early treatment.
A nephrologist is a doctor who specializes in kidney care and treatment of kidney diseases. People with diabetes may also need to see a nephrologist since diabetes can also cause kidney damage over time.
Primary care doctors may also refer patients with diabetes to nephrologists as needed. Aside from helping managing kidney disease, a nephrologist can also administer a type of kidney treatment called dialysis, when a patient's kidneys are no longer functioning properly.
Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
A certified diabetes educator (CDE) may be any of the following health professionals:
- Exercise physiologist
These professionals are specially trained in diabetes care and treatment and work in private offices, clinics, hospitals, or diabetes centers.
Registered Dietitian (RD)
A registered dietitian helps people with diabetes in planning meals that are based on health goals, such as lowering blood sugar levels, blood pressure level, or fat levels. Dietitians also help in tailoring diets based on the specific needs of each person.
Diet plays a significant role when it comes to managing diabetes. Visiting a dietitian can be beneficial to people who have had diabetes for a long time.
Exercise Physiologist or Physical Trainer
People with either types of diabetes need to exercise to help control their weight and blood sugar levels. Exercising can also help reduce stress as well as help the body use insulin better.
Your healthcare provider can help you find a licensed healthcare professional with training in exercise physiology. A scientifically based fitness program can be planned by an exercise physiologist for people with diabetes.
Gum disease can also develop in People with diabetes are also more prone to developing gum disease. The reason is that sugar in the saliva feeds bacteria present in the mouth and leave a sticky plaque on the teeth. There are types of plaque that lead to tooth decay while other types cause bad breath.
It is highly recommended for people with diabetes to have regular dental checkups twice a year. Proper dental care and dental hygiene can help prevent the occurence of gum disease.
When to See a Specialist
It is not always necessary to see a specialist for diabetes. However, people with signs and symptoms of diabetes complications may need to see one or more specialists. People with diabetes may need to see a specialist if they have any of the following:
- Experiencing new symptoms
- Worsening or recurring symptoms of diabetes
- Regular treatment options do not work
- Daily complex treatments (multiple injections or insulin pumps)
- Unable to find the right treatment or insulin levels
- Confused about educational materials for diabetes
- Need help in managing or planning a specific diet for diabetes