Jeanette Terry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 11 years old, and she has since lived with diabetes through difficult life transitions, including the teenage years, college, and having children. She addresses the day-to-day struggles of living with diabetes—going beyond medical advice—to improve overall adherence and management.  

1. Blood glucose self monitoring

Frequency: Four to six times per day or as your doctor instructs.

Regularly checking blood glucose levels will help balance and maintain good diabetes control. This test measures the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. By checking your blood sugar levels, you will know how much medication or insulin to take and how to balance your diet to help keep those levels in a healthy range.  

2. Hemoglobin A1c (or just A1c)

Frequency: Every three to six months.

This test reflects the average amount of glucose in the bloodstream over time. This test gives you more insight regarding overall diabetes control than daily blood sugar checks. It is advised to aim for an A1c of seven percent or less for optimal diabetes care and overall health.

3. Blood pressure

Frequency: At each doctor’s visit (the doctor may have you check it more often if it is high).

High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels just as too much sugar in the bloodstream can. The blood vessels to worry most about are the vessels in the eyes which are already at risk due to diabetes. It is important to keep your blood pressure below 130/80 so as to not cause additional complications and increase the risk of heart disease.

4. Lipid profile

Frequency: Yearly.

This is a blood test to measure the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. There are two types of cholesterol that are measured in this test. HDL is the good cholesterol that can protect against heart disease.  LDL is bad cholesterol that damages the heart. Triglycerides are fat that is measured in the bloodstream with this test. Discuss the results of this test with your healthcare team and make adjustments in your lifestyle if necessary to achieve healthy levels of each.

5. Eye exam

Frequency: Yearly.

As a person with diabetes, you should be seen by your ophthalmologist at least once a year for a dilated eye exam. This is to check for retinopathy, which is a much higher risk for those with diabetes. Retinopathy occurs when the blood vessels in the retina change. This can cause the fluid in the eye to leak or the vessels to close off completely. Retinopathy can be treated if caught early, so make sure you are diligent about getting this test done.

6. Foot exam

Frequency: Yearly, unless you see changes in your feet. Then ask your doctor.

Many people with diabetes have bad circulation and often develop neuropathy, causing reduced sensitivity in the feet. In addition to having your doctor do a foot exam, check your own feet frequently for any wounds or irregularities. By checking your feet, you may be able to reduce complications with your feet because you'll be catching any problems early.

7. Dental check-up

Frequency: Every six months.

If you don't take good care of your mouth, you are at a much higher risk for gum disease. Keep your recommended dental appointments in order to maintain optimum health for your teeth and gums.

8. Microalbuminuria check

Frequency: At least once a year. Your doctor should request this test more often if there is reason for concern.

This is a urine test to verify if there is protein in the urine, which would indicate whether or not you are at risk for a variety of kidney problems. People with diabetes are more at risk for kidney disease, and if caught early, the damage can be treated and slowed.

9. BMI

Frequency: Get checked at each doctor’s visit to help you stay at a healthy weight.

The body mass index measures an individual’s body fat according to their height and weight. A BMI that is above the normal range would indicate a person is at risk for obesity. Obesity can be a huge risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Also, diabetes can be much better managed if a person strives to keep their BMI within the recommended range.

10. Neurologic examination

Frequency: Yearly, unless you are experiencing nerve pain—then consult your doctor.

Because people with diabetes often have bad circulation and are at a much higher risk for neuropathy, make sure you receive a complete neurological examination to locate any problem areas.