Asking the right questions about diabetes

If you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be feeling overwhelmed and scared. You probably have questions about your diagnosis but don’t know where to start.

If this sounds like you, you aren’t alone!  Even appointments with your healthcare team can feel like a lot in the beginning. But asking the right questions can help.  The best way to navigate a new diagnosis is to have a good understanding of your care.  These appointments should be individualized for you and your needs, wherever you are in your journey.

This checklist will help you feel more prepared and confident when you visit your care team (primary care doctor, certified diabetes educator, pharmacist, dietitian, endocrinologist, or anyone else), so you leave your appointment feeling like you have the tools and resources to take care of yourself. Of course, changes won’t happen overnight, but the right support will help you take the baby steps that lead to success with time.

1. Understand your labs

There are a few labs that will be checked after you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.  Some you will be taught to check on your own at home, while others will be monitored by your doctor.  General diabetes guidelines suggest the following:

  • Daily: Your care team may teach you how to check your blood sugar at home.  If you are nervous about doing this yourself, that’s a perfectly normal concern to share with your team, they will have some tips for you.
    You will also set blood sugar level targets—including how often and when you need to check—so you can track them.  Daily blood sugar checks help to make sure your medications and lifestyle changes are working.
  • Every 3 months: It’s recommended that you have your hemoglobin A1c checked every three months if you are newly diagnosed or you aren’t meeting daily blood sugar targets.  Your hemoglobin A1c is a long-term (about a 90 day), an average measurement of blood sugar.  Once you are consistently meeting your targets, you may need to check your A1c every six months instead. Find out how you can test at-home.
  • Annually:  Every year, your doctor will check your kidney function and cholesterol levels.  This is because having diabetes can increase the risk of health conditions that affect your heart and kidneys.  If you already have concerns with your kidneys or any heart conditions, your doctor may check these more regularly.  These tests are blood tests that may require fasting.

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2. Ask about medications

While diet and lifestyle play a significant role in diabetes management, a big part of your treatment plan may rest on how well your medications are working, especially in the beginning.  This appointment is your time to discuss any concerns or questions you have to make sure your medications are working as they should.  Some questions to consider are:

  • Are there any side effects?
  • How does this medication work to control my blood sugar?
  • What happens if I skip or miss a dose?
  • Are these the best choice financially, or are there more inexpensive options for me?

You may also want to discuss whether you’ll be able to reduce the amount of medication you need if you also incorporate healthy diet or exercise changes.

3. Expect regular physical examinations

At your initial doctor’s visit (and at least annually after that), the doctor will take your weight and blood pressure and complete a thorough health screening. In addition, they will check your feet and lower body for sores or wounds. Blood sugar consistently above target can interfere with your body’s ability to heal or even feel small wounds.

Your eyes will also be checked to make sure there is no damage to the surrounding blood vessels.  If you have any feelings of numbness or pain, make sure to also bring this up.

4. Diet changes are probably needed (but don’t worry, you won’t have to live on lettuce)

Your doctor usually won’t be the one who goes into detail about diet and diabetes, but they can answer any questions or concerns you may have.

You may be referred to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in helping people make diet changes to support healthy blood sugar.  An RDN will take time to talk with you about your eating habits to help you create a sustainable, healthy way to eat while managing diabetes. So, again, if you are worried you will never eat your favorite foods, make sure to bring this up with your dietitian, who is there to support you. The 9am.health clinical team can help you find healthier eating habits.

5. Accept emotional support

If this is a brand new diagnosis, it’s okay to feel unsure about the next steps.  While not always as apparent as medications or labs, your psychological well-being is critical to your success.  What worries you or makes you feel scared?  Maybe you feel nervous about checking, or perhaps the thought of changing your diet overwhelms you. These are essential concerns to share with your care team.

Your doctor may not be the one who spends the time addressing all of your concerns, but they can make sure you are set up with a diabetes care and education specialist, or even a mental health professional, who can take the time to answer your questions and help you develop a plan that works for you.

Bonus tip

Write down your questions and concerns ahead of time so you won’t forget them once you are at the appointment.  Diabetes appointments can help you feel more proactive and in control of your health.

Your care plan is designed to be “patient-centered,” meaning YOU are the focus. Therefore, the goals you set should meet you where you are to help you feel successful.  After your first few appointments, you should leave with a care plan designed just for you.