Sunday, February 8, 2009


The news that you're a diabetic can be more than a little overwhelming, especially if
you have little or no knowledge of the disease. But you don't have to face it alone. In fact, one of the first things you should do is put together a health care team to help you. This post looks at some of the key members of that team.

Primary Care Physician - your regular doctor. S/he may have diagnosed your diabetes during a regular visit [you do see your doctor at least once a year, don't you? You should...]. Your primary care physician will coordinate your health care, working with the other members of your team (That said, all your doctors should be aware of what the others are doing. Get each doctor's fax number, and ask that reports be shared).

Diabetes Treatment Specialist [usually an endocrinologist] - Most primary care physicians try to stay up-to-date with treatment for common illnesses. But some diseases, diabetes one of them, need specialized care. Hence the diabetes treatment specialist. These doctors are expert in diabetes care. And believe me, you WANT to keep your blood sugar levels under control! The better your blood sugars are controlled, the less havoc diabetes is likely to wreak on other parts of your body.

Nurse Educator - usually an R.N. with specialized training. They will show you how to handle day-to-day living with diabetes, teaching you such things as:
- how to check your blood sugar with a blood glucose monitor
- care for your feet
- how to treat your diabetes, with or without insulin.

(It's recommended that new diabetics take a brief course in self-care from a Diabetic Educator.)

Registered Dietitian - as the name implies, a nationally-certified expert on nutrition. The dietitian will work with you to create a meal plan that takes into account your diabetes, as well as other medical needs [weight loss, or high blood pressure, for instance], and frequently can steer you towards delicious foods and recipes.

Eye Doctor / Podiatrist - although diabetes can cause medical complications in many parts of the body, many issues come from the eyes and feet. The American Diabetes Association recommends annual visits to your eye doctor. It's probably a good idea to see your podiatrist three or four times a year for foot examination and, if necessary, removal of corns and calluses. Do not try to remove them yourself! Home treatments can lead to infection which, as you've probably guessed, are more difficult for diabetics to recover from.

Mental Health Professionals / Social Workers - Diabetes is a long-term disease. There is no shame, and a lot of good, in seeking help with emotional and personal issues relating to it. Social workers may be able to help with financial issues relating to your treatment.

Dentist - diabetics are somewhat more prone to gum disease, and may have more risk of tooth damage, due to high blood sugar. See your dentist at least every six months, and make sure s/he knows you're a diabetic.

Exercise Physiologist - regular exercise, at any level of exertion, helps control blood sugar levels. Make sure your exercise specialist is certified, and check with your primary care physician before beginning any exercise program.

This article, from the American Diabetes Association's website, expands on these points, as well as suggesting questions you can ask to make sure the team you construct has the skills you need. Because, at the end of the day, you are the most important member of your health-care team. It's up to you to follow the instructions of your health care providers. It's up to you to point out issues [medical and otherwise] relating to your diabetes. It's up to you to work on a positive attitude. Diabetes is a grinding, killing disease. The higher the quality at your back, the better for you.

-Mike Riley


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