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Diabetes: Tests to Watch for Complications

Topic Overview

The table below summarizes the tests that can be done to identify complications from diabetes, including those tests done during a physical exam. The physical exam evaluates your overall health. The doctor pays special attention to your eyes, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves, abdomen, and feet. Tests range from taking your blood pressure to drawing blood to test your cholesterol or kidney function.

Complications from diabetes and the tests used to detect them1, 2

Organ or condition

Test

What it shows

Target level

High blood sugar

Every 3 to 6 months, have a hemoglobin A1c test.

How steady your blood sugar levels have been over time

Less than 7% for most nonpregnant adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and children with type 2 diabetes

Less than 7.5% for teens 13 to 19 years old with type 1 diabetes

Less than 8% for children 6 to 12 years old with type 1 diabetes

Less than 8.5% for children younger than 6 years of age with type 1 diabetes

High cholesterol

Every year, get your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels checked.

The amount of fat in your blood, which can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke

LDL less than 100 mg/dL (if you have heart disease, your doctor might recommend keeping it at 70 mg/dL)

HDL more than 40 mg/dL in men and more than 50 mg/dL in women

Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL

High blood pressure

Every 3 to 6 months when you visit your doctor, have your blood pressure checked. If you don't see your doctor that often, at least have your blood pressure checked once a year.

Pressure of blood flow in your arteries

Less than 120/80 for most people

High blood pressure is 140/80 or higher

In between these two levels is called prehypertension

Kidneys

Every year, get a random urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR) test that checks for microalbumin, or small amounts of protein. If you have a high ACR or protein in your urine, it is a sign of kidney damage.

Every year, get a blood test for creatinine and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).

Whether kidney disease is developing

The stage of kidney disease, if you already have it

Less than 30 mg/g of protein in your urine

eGFR greater than 60 mL/min

Eyes

Every year, visit an ophthalmologist or an optometrist for a dilated eye exam (ophthalmoscopy). Some doctors may recommend less frequent eye exams if you have no signs of diabetic retinopathy.

Whether retinopathy (damage to back of the eye) has developed

No retinal damage

Feet

Every 3 to 6 months when you visit your doctor, take off your socks so you will both remember to check your feet. Once a year, get a more thorough examination of your feet. This is also known as a complete foot exam.

Whether foot ulcers have developed

Whether the person has lost any sensation

No foot ulcers or loss of sensation

Teeth

Twice a year, have a dental exam.

Gum disease

Healthy gums and teeth

Thyroid

If you have high cholesterol, or if you are a woman over 50 years old, your doctor may recommend a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test.

Thyroid disease

Normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level

Liver

Your doctor may recommend a liver function blood test, especially if you are taking a medicine that could affect your liver.

Liver disease

Normal liver function test

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Diabetes Association (2013). Standards of medical care in diabetes—2013. Diabetes Care, 36(Suppl 1): S11–S66.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Clinical Practice Guideline: Management of newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 131(2): 364–382. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/2/364.full.html.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Last Revised July 16, 2013

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