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November 18, 2022 • read
When should a diabetic go to an endocrinologist?
While diabetes is a well-known condition, the type of doctor to help manage it — an endocrinologist — might not ring a bell. Despite this, the two often go hand-in-hand. Here’s what to expect at your endocrinology appointment and how seeing one can help with your diabetes treatment.
What’s an endocrinologist?
After completing medical school, endocrinologists undergo six more years of training in the field of endocrinology — the network of glands that produce the hormones your body runs on. All of this specialization leaves them equipped to diagnose and treat conditions related to your endocrine system, issues like thyroid disorders, PCOS, fertility problems, and diabetes.
If you’re living with diabetes or another endocrine-related issue, Maple can help. Maple connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists from your phone, tablet, or computer within minutes. And, you can schedule an appointment with an endocrinologist online within 24 hours, without a referral.
The endocrinologist will review your medical history and can help you formulate an appropriate treatment plan for your diabetes. They can also prescribe any needed medication, and refer you for additional testing if required.
How is endocrinology related to diabetes?
Carbohydrates are your body’s most important source of energy. When you eat a carbohydrate, your body breaks it down and converts it into sugar to use as energy. Any sugar that isn’t used, however, ends up in the bloodstream, which is why your blood sugar levels spike after you eat.
Normally, your endocrine system is responsible for regulating your blood sugar. It does this through your pancreas by releasing insulin, a hormone that helps your cells take in sugar from your bloodstream to be used as energy.
When you have diabetes, however, your pancreas can’t make enough insulin, or any insulin, or your cells don’t respond to insulin properly. This makes diabetes one of the major dysfunctions of the endocrine system.
What does an endocrinologist do to help a diabetic?
Your family doctor and their medical team are important members of your diabetes management team. Some family practice diabetic care teams include diabetes educators, dietitians, clinical pharmacists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners working in collaboration with the physician. And, having all of these resources in one office means many people see only them for their diabetes.
But, the role of an endocrinologist in your diabetes management is crucial in more complex cases. If you’re taking insulin, or if you’re experiencing complications due to your diabetes, your condition may require more specialized care than your general practitioner can provide. Likewise, if your diabetes isn’t well controlled, or if you have additional medical conditions affecting your condition.
Diabetes isn’t static. You may start off managing your condition with help from your doctor, but diabetes is a chronic condition that can change over time. If your condition worsens or you begin having trouble managing it, it may be time to see an endocrinologist for help with the treatment and management of your diabetes.
Your endocrinologist can help with pharmacological interventions like adjusting medication and insulin doses to better manage your condition. Additionally, they can suggest diet and exercise adjustments to help you optimize your health.
Finally, your endocrinologist can recommend additional tools for managing your condition. Depending on your situation, this might be an insulin pump or a different blood sugar monitoring device.
What to expect from your appointments with an endocrinologist
In many cases, your healthcare provider determines when to refer you to an endocrinologist for your diabetes. However, if you feel like you need another opinion or more specialized care, you can also arrange to see an endocrinologist yourself.
Because diabetes is a chronic condition, you’re likely to have regular, ongoing appointments with your endocrinologist every few months. Here’s what to expect from them.
What to expect at your first endocrinologist appointment for diabetes
Your endocrinologist will likely start your first appointment by taking your medical and family history. They’ll also want to know about your exercise routine and your diet.
From there, they’ll move on to the physical part of your appointment by checking for high blood pressure and weighing and measuring you. An examination of your teeth, the skin on your feet and hands, and your level of sensation in these areas should follow to look for any signs of uncontrolled diabetes. Expect to have your blood and urine tested, and to do a blood glucose reading during your visit as well.
Finally, your endocrinologist will set aside some time for an in-depth explanation of your condition.
What does an endocrinologist do during follow-up appointments?
Subsequent visits with your endocrinologist won’t be as long as your first one. Instead, they’ll focus on any changes in your health or medication status since your previous appointment.
Your endocrinologist will want to know about any weight loss, vision changes, or other physical or psychological developments since they last saw you. Any adjustments to your diet or exercise routine and their effects on your daily blood glucose readings will be of interest to them as well.
With each visit, your endocrinologist will check your blood glucose levels to see how you’re managing your blood sugar. They’ll also monitor your blood pressure to make sure it’s within normal limits.
In short, your endocrinologist is on the lookout for anything that might indicate your blood sugar management has changed — whether for worse or better. If it has, they’ll adjust your diabetes medications or your insulin dosages to better suit your needs. They might also recommend additional devices to help.
How to prepare for your appointment with an endocrinologist
Monitoring your blood sugar on a daily basis is a crucial part of managing your diabetes. If you’re not already doing it, you’ll need to start in preparation for your appointment. Your endocrinologist will want a record of these daily readings to see how well your condition is being managed.
You should also come prepared with an overview of your exercise regimen, diet, and a list of any medications you’re taking to provide them with a full picture of your health.
And, since endocrinologists are diabetes specialists, don’t forget to sit down beforehand and draft a list of questions. This is your chance to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the condition.
How to manage diabetes
Medication alone isn’t enough to fully manage your diabetes — your lifestyle is also an important part of the picture.
As a starting point for your diabetes treatment plan, you’ll need to establish a schedule for checking your blood glucose levels with your healthcare provider. The insulin or diabetes medications you take will depend on these blood sugar inputs and how accurately they reflect your levels throughout the day.
In addition to daily testing and medication, building in healthy lifestyle modifications is a must. Exercise is a great tool for diabetes because it helps your cells use sugar. And not just while you sweat it out — even after you finish exercising, your cells process glucose better due to a temporary increase in their insulin sensitivity.
Beginning a new exercise routine can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Set daily, achievable physical activity goals like taking the stairs or walking around the block before or after a meal. Start small with just five minutes a day. And, if it’s hard to get started, enlist a friend or family member as a workout or walking buddy.
Finally, don’t forget about your diet — it’s one of the most powerful tools for managing your diabetes. While it might be beneficial to see a dietitian for a deeper dive into healthy eating, there are some great practices to help you get started.
As a baseline, choose whole foods whenever possible instead of processed or packaged ones. Quench your thirst with water instead of juice or pop. And, plan your snacking strategy with healthy options like cut-up veggies and nuts.
What are the long-term complications of diabetes?
Dealing with your disease day-to-day can result in increased stress, anxiety, and depression. But, improperly managing your diabetes can cause a host of issues. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes complications can affect the whole body, from your eyes to the nerve endings in your feet. These can include strokes and heart issues, as well as tooth decay and gum disease.
One infamously scary feature of diabetes is the damage it does to your nerve endings. This can contribute to numbness, tingling, pain, and loss of sensation. Over time, these impaired nerve endings can lead to unnoticed wounds and infections. Coupled with peripheral artery disease, which diabetes also causes, this may eventually lead to amputation.
Diabetes and kidney complications often go hand-in-hand as well. Over time, the disease damages the blood vessels of your kidneys, impeding their ability to properly filter your body’s waste. About half of diabetics end up with some form of kidney dysfunction, putting them at risk of urinary tract infections and potentially kidney failure.
Diabetes management team
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be difficult to manage. But, with a treatment plan and a care team, preventing many of the complications diabetes can bring is possible.
Your diabetes care team should of course include your healthcare provider and any other diabetes specialists you see, like your endocrinologist. Other healthcare professionals may include a chiropodist (a foot doctor), a dietitian, and your pharmacist.
This circle of care should also expand to include any family members or friends who help you manage your condition.
How Maple can help you manage your diabetes
If you’re concerned that your diabetes isn’t as well managed as you’d like, seeing an endocrinologist should be your next step. The endocrinologist can review your history, prescribe medication, and refer you for additional testing, if necessary. They can also help you develop a treatment plan for your condition, all without a referral.
Safeguard your future health and feel confident that your diabetes is under control by getting in touch with an endocrinologist today.
This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.