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    Diabetes: Tests to Watch for Complications

    Diabetes: Tests to Watch for Complications

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    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.

    Complications from diabetes and the tests used to detect them footnote 1, footnote 2, footnote 3

    Organ or condition


    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 youth younger than 18 years old with type 1 diabetes

    (Your goal may be lower or higher, based on your health and age.)

    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 140/90 or higher. You have high blood pressure if your top number is 140 or higher or your bottom number is 90 or higher, or both.

    (Your goal may be lower or higher, based on your health and age.)


    Every year, have your urine checked for the protein albumin. Also, have your blood checked for the waste product creatinine.

    A glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is usually calculated using a formula that includes a person's age, gender, race, and blood creatinine level.

    Whether kidney disease is developing

    Less than 30 mg/g of protein in your urine

    GFR 90 mL/min or above


    Every year, visit an ophthalmologist or an optometrist for a dilated eye exam (ophthalmoscopy). Some doctors may recommend less frequent eye exams (for example, every 2 years) if you have no signs of diabetic retinopathy.

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

    No retinal damage


    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


    Twice a year, have a dental exam.

    Gum disease

    Healthy gums and teeth


    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


    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

    High cholesterol

    Your doctor may recommend a cholesterol test when you are first diagnosed with diabetes or at age 40.

    Along with other measures, cholesterol levels can help you know your risk for heart attack or stroke.

    The goal in treating cholesterol is to lower your chance of having a heart attack or a stroke. The goal is not just to lower your cholesterol numbers.

    Related Information



    1. American Diabetes Association (2016). Standards of medical care in diabetes-2016. Diabetes Care, 39(Suppl 1): S1-S112.
    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.
    3. Chiang JL, et al. (2014). Type 1 diabetes through the life span: A position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care, 37(7): 2034-2051. DOI: 10.2337/dc14-1140. Accessed July 21, 2014.


    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
    Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
    Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
    Specialist Medical Reviewer David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology

    Current as ofMay 23, 2016

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