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Guide to Important Diabetes Lab Tests and Exams

Better Manage Your Diabetes with these Key Tests and Exams

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Updated November 16, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Guide to Important Diabetes Lab Tests and Exams

Keeping a regular routine of diabetes tests and exams is good practice for taking care of yourself.

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There are a few core diabetes-related exams and lab tests that should be a regular part of your healthcare routine. These exams and tests are important because health complications related to diabetes can occur even if your blood sugars are under control most of the time. Often, the first signs of a health complication can be detected by one of the following tests or exams. Early detection can lead to treatments that can delay or even prevent the complication from becoming worse.

Here are the exams and tests you should have done on a regular basis.

Hemoglobin A1c

The hemoglobin A1c test (usually referred to as A1c) is a blood test that measures the average amount of glucose in your bloodstream over the past 2-3 months. It is the best way to determine your overall, long-term glucose control.

It is necessary to get a longer-term view because your daily glucose tests only measure the amount of glucose in your blood in the present moment. Knowing your present glucose reading is critical for insulin dosing and meal planning, but having a long-term perspective can help you and your diabetes healthcare team understand your glucose management in a much more comprehensive way. This knowledge can be used to make important adjustments to your management routine, if necessary, and possibly reduce the risk of health complications.

  • How often?

    Since this test only measures the average glucose of the past 2-3 months, you should ideally get this simple test performed every quarter. But your doctor may recommend a different schedule.


  • Target goal?

    Most diabetes professionals suggest a target goal of less than 7%. People without diabetes typically have an A1c in the 4% to 6% range. Again, your doctor may have a different target goal for you, so it is important to discuss this with him or her.

Blood Pressure

This test measures the pressure of blood flow against the walls of your blood vessels. If the pressure is too high, this can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney disease and eye problems.

  • How often?

    You should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year but preferably more often. Most people with diabetes have several healthcare appointments each year, and your blood pressure should be checked at each appointment.


  • Target goal?

    Your blood pressure should be less than 130/80. Ideally, you want both numbers to be in that target range.

Cholesterol

People with diabetes should have periodic cholesterol blood tests, in order to measure the amount of LDL cholesterol (or "bad cholesterol") in the blood. In many people -- especially diabetics -- high LDL cholesterol levels increase the risk of fat building up in the walls of the arteries. Excess amounts of glucose in your blood can make cholesterol sticky, which causes it to cling to arteries and possibly build up to the point where it decreases blood flow. This decrease in blood flow can put you at greater risk of a heart attack.

  • How often?

    Your cholesterol should be checked at least once a year and perhaps more often if you already have high blood pressure.


  • Target goal?

    Your LDL cholesterol should be less than 100. If you already have heart disease, your doctor may suggest a lower target number.

Microalbuminuria (also called proteinuria)

This is a urine test that measures how well your kidneys are working. When small amounts of protein are detected in your urine, it indicates that the filtering system of your kidneys -- which are designed to take out waste products -- is not working as efficiently as it should. This is an early warning sign of kidney disease.

  • How often?

    You should have this urine test at least once a year.


  • Target goal?

    Your target range is less than 30 milligrams.

Eye Exam

High glucose combined with high blood pressure can damage the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. This condition is called retinopathy. A special eye exam takes a close look at the retina to see if there is any damage to the blood vessels in that part of the eye. Your eye must be dilated for this test.

  • How often?

    You should have this test performed once a year or if you notice unusual changes in your vision between annual appointments. Early detection of retinopathy can prevent significant vision damage caused by diabetes.

Foot Exam

One complication from diabetes is reduced circulation to your feet. A foot exam by a podiatrist or other healthcare provider will assess the blood flow and nerve function of your feet to help determine whether you have early signs of neuropathy.

  • How often?

    If you already have tingling, numbness, sores that are slow to heal, or other symptoms of neuropathy, you should inspect your feet every day to look for any redness, sores, blisters or cracks before putting on your socks and shoes. At every medical visit, your healthcare provider should also do a thorough foot exam.

Source:

Joslin Diabetes Center. "Six Tests for Staying Healthy with Diabetes.”

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