When to See an Endocrinologist for Diabetes

Endocrinologist and patient discuss diabetes

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If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and you are on insulin or need more specific care, you may be sent to a diabetes specialist by your primary care physician. This specialist is called an endocrinologist, specializing in disorders of the endocrine system. This system produces hormones that regulate metabolism, reproduction, and homeostasis.

What Is an Endocrinologist?

An endocrinologist may provide care in a specialized endocrinology practice, such as one that focuses on diabetes and endocrinology, or split their time by seeing both endocrinology and general internal medicine patients.

Endocrinologists treat diabetes, a disease of the pancreas, and diseases that affect other endocrine systems such as the thyroid, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. These diseases may include but are not limited to:

  • Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
  • Pituitary diseases such as pituitary tumors or producing too much or too little pituitary hormones
  • Sex hormone abnormalities
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lipid metabolism

Training to be an endocrinologist requires two years of additional training after a basic internal medicine residency training. After completing this training, endocrine, diabetes, and metabolism fellows are eligible to become board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

When to See an Endocrinologist for Diabetes

While you may be diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes by your primary care doctor, sometimes you may need to see an endocrinologist to help you manage your diabetes. This depends on your diabetes type and your individual situation.

In certain cases, such as if you have uncomplicated type II diabetes, you may never need to see a diabetes doctor because you can manage the disease through lifestyle changes with your primary physician's guidance. In other more complicated cases, such as with type 1 diabetes, your primary doctor will recommend seeing an endocrinologist.

Though your primary doctor can help guide you as to whether you need to see an endocrinologist for diabetes, there are other reasons why you might choose to or need to see an endocrinologist:

  • Communication: If you feel like your doctor is not listening to your concerns or understanding them, you might see a specialist who can focus on care for your diabetes.
  • Education: While primary doctors are very knowledgeable, you might still have trouble finding specific information relating to diabetes. In this case, an endocrinologist can help you form a diabetes care team to receive diabetes education.
  • Complications: If you are experiencing complications with your diabetes, such as open sores on your feet or problems with your eyes, kidneys, or nerves, a specialist can help manage these symptoms and prevent further damage.
  • Conventional treatments don’t work: Your primary care physician may be doing the best they can with the knowledge they have, but if your treatments aren’t working, it may be time to see a specialist.
  • Complex treatments: If you take three or more injections a day or use an insulin pump, an endocrinologist can ensure you receive the best recommendations for managing treatment.

Whether or not you see an endocrinologist, remember that you are the most important person on your diabetes care team. You know your body and symptoms better than anyone else.

When it comes to making the choices that impact your treatment plan—when and how you take insulin or medications, what food you eat, the exercise you do—you are in charge.

Pediatric Endocrinologists

If your child has diabetes, you become the point person for managing and coordinating the care between their primary physician, endocrinologist, and other people on their diabetes care team. A pediatric endocrinologist can help you manage your child’s diabetes in a way that makes the most sense for your entire family.

Pediatric endocrinologists treat children and adolescents and are used to interacting with children and their families. They understand how medical issues, like diabetes, can impact a child at different stages of development.

What to Expect 

To help you best manage your diabetes, an endocrinologist will help you by making sure you understand the disease process first. They will then discuss treatment options and how best to manage the disease.

Initial Exam

In your initial exam, your endocrinologist may go over lab results and discuss your diagnosis. They may then prescribe medications and make sure that you are educated on how to administer these drugs properly, especially if you are prescribed insulin.

Your doctor may also discuss lifestyle modifications such as a nutritional and exercise plan that can help you manage your diabetes. Your doctor will go over any complications that could arise with diabetes and make sure you understand what is to be expected and when to seek additional medical help.

Your doctor may also talk to you about how living with diabetes can affect your mental health as well. They will also make sure that your overall health is being taken care of too.

Regular Visits

During regular visits with your endocrinologist, your doctor will go over your current treatment plan, ask if you have any new symptoms or concerns, and check to ensure that you are doing OK in managing your diabetes.

Sometimes, you can feel overwhelmed at a doctor’s appointment and forget your concerns. You may consider writing down your questions before seeing your doctor so that you can make sure that everything is addressed.

You should plan to see your doctor at least twice a year, but more often if you are having difficulty managing your diabetes or reaching your blood glucose, blood pressure, or cholesterol goals.

Depending on the information you provide at your regular visits and any test results they receive, they may change your treatment plan.

Managing Diabetes

While it may take time to adjust to life with diabetes, creating a self-care plan with the guidance of your doctor can help you manage diabetes long-term. By taking care of yourself every day, you can live a long, healthy life with diabetes.

A typical management plan includes regular visits with your doctor to check blood glucose levels and other markers of health such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your doctor or care team may also help you create a nutritional plan that helps you regulate blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Making sure to get regular exercise is also important to managing diabetes as is taking all medications as prescribed, even if you start to feel better. Depending on your type of diabetes, you may also need to check your blood glucose levels on a regular basis, not just at doctor’s appointments.

Creating a Diabetes Team

To help you manage every aspect of your health and diabetes, you may find that creating a team of different healthcare providers can be incredibly resourceful. These health providers can include:

  • Primary care provider: A healthcare provider who can oversee your entire health and well-being along with your diabetes
  • Endocrinologist: A doctor who will provide specialized diabetic care
  • Ophthalmologist/optometrist: A doctor who can diagnose and treat eye disorders
  • Podiatrist: A doctor who can treat feet and lower leg problems such as nerve damage and ulcers
  • Pharmacist: A professional who can advise you on your medications and how to take them properly
  • Dentist: A doctor who can monitor your oral health, which impacts your overall health
  • Registered nurse/nurse navigator: Nurses who can help coordinate your medical care
  • Registered dietitian: A healthcare professional who can help you figure out what to eat and drink to manage your diabetes
  • Certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES): Professionals who can help you manage the things you need to do to take care of your diabetes
  • Mental health professional: Doctors and therapists who can help you deal with the challenges of day-to-day life with diabetes and any emotions that come along with this
  • Fitness professional: A physical therapist, physiologist, or personal trainer who can help you stay active

A Word From Verywell

Living with an illness like diabetes is not always easy, but understanding your body and the disease and how you can help your own health is key to managing it. Remember, you are the most important person on your diabetes care team. Do not hesitate to take charge.

While your primary care doctor and endocrinologist can be a wealth of information, finding others who can support you in this journey can make all the difference. Surround yourself with a competent care team that you trust and rely on to help you manage.

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Article Sources
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