Endocrinologists for Diabetes
There are more than 34 million Americans currently living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. If you’re among them, you understand the importance of testing your blood sugar, maintaining proper blood sugar control, eating a diabetes-healthy diet, and squeezing in a good amount of physical activity each day.
Your personal diabetes treatment plan should include all these variables and was hopefully created alongside your physician and care team. For many individuals living with diabetes, this care team includes working closely with an endocrinologist.
What is an endocrinologist?
Many in the diabetes community refer to endocrinologists as “diabetes doctors”. However, this is not entirely true. An endocrinologist is a specialist who focuses on problems and diseases associated with the endocrine system, a network of glands in the body responsible for producing necessary hormones that regulate a variety of bodily functions, including metabolism, respiration, growth and development, blood pressure, heart rate, and even reproduction.
The glands of the endocrine system include the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands, and (you guessed it!) the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin and glucagon, both necessary for regulating blood sugar. When the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or the body is unable to process the insulin it does produce, the result is the onset of diabetes.
So, while endocrinologists don’t exclusively treat diabetes, the disease is a glandular disorder, and an “endo” can often provide expertise and insight into your condition that your primary care physician may not be able to deliver. This is because becoming an endocrinologist requires a physician to complete two additional years of specialized training in diagnosing and treating glandular disorders after completing a basic internal medicine residency.
Should I see an endocrinologist?
The answer to this question (as well as most diabetes-related questions) really depends on your individual condition and treatment plan. That being said, the American Diabetes Association (ADA), recommends that everyone with Type 1 diabetes should see an endocrinologist when they are diagnosed.
Because this form of the disease usually develops in children and adolescents, parents play a key role in the process. In fact, there are pediatric endocrinologists who specialize in treating younger diabetics and have a deep understanding of the impact and potential consequences of growing up with Type 1 diabetes. These doctors are used to working side-by-side with parents and siblings to create a diabetes management program that works for younger patients and their families.
For those with Type 2 diabetes, the need to see an endo varies patient by patient. For instance, if you have your diabetes well under control and don’t require insulin injections by syringe or insulin pen to maintain target blood sugar levels, you very well may be able to manage your diabetes alongside your primary care physician alone. However, if you’re someone with Type 2 diabetes who is having problems managing your disease for any reason, it might be time to see an endocrinologist. Here are six indicators that you might want to consult with an endo.
If your current diabetes management plan is producing an A1C score that’s too high, it means your long-term blood sugar levels are not being properly managed and an endocrinologist may be able to help you regain control.
If you’re experiencing neuropathy, retinopathy, or any other diabetes-related complication, an endocrinologist can help you create a better management program to control or eliminate these conditions.
- You Require Numerous Insulin Injections
If you are someone who requires numerous insulin treatments each day, an endocrinologist can provide important insight that might help make it easier to manage your medication.
- Hypoglycemic Episodes
Some people experience frequent lows, which is a sign that blood sugar is out of control and may require some important adjustments.
- You’re Interested in Trying a CGM or Insulin Pump
An endocrinologist can tell you everything you need to know about new diabetes testing and treatment options, such as the FreeStyle Libre and Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitoring systems, and prescribe them if you decide they’re right for you.
- You Feel as Though Your Primary Care Physician Could Use Some Help
Primary care physicians do their best to help their patients manage diabetes, however, they simply do not have the expertise of an endocrinologist. If you’re feeling unsure that your doctor is providing the level of care you need, it’s definitely a good time to consult an endocrinologist. In fact, if your diabetes becomes difficult to control, your doctor will likely be the one to refer you to an endocrinologist.
How do you find an endocrinologist?
It might not be as easy as you think. Right now, there are more than 34 million Americans currently living with diabetes. According to 2020 statistics posted on Statista.com, there were at that time only 8,377 endocrinologists in the United States. Do the math and it becomes obvious that not everyone has equal access to an endocrinologist. Fortunately, not everyone with diabetes needs one, but if you feel you do and have not yet had an appointment, ask your current doctor for a recommendation. You can also try consulting with your insurance provider to see if there is an available endo within your network, which can save you a lot of money. Remember, the most important person on your diabetes management team is you, so never be afraid to be your own advocate.
Preparing for your first endo appointment
First and foremost, make sure that you test and track your blood sugar regularly before your appointment and bring the results with you. Also be sure to bring a list of all the medications you are taking to both manage diabetes and for any other medical conditions. Perhaps, most importantly, come in prepared with a list of questions. Rest assured, your endocrinologist will have plenty for you, however, it’s a great idea to have your questions and concerns ready to discuss, as well. They might be about blood sugar testing, different treatment and medication options you’ve heard about or would like to consider, or additional tests that might help you better understand and control your blood sugar. If it’s on your mind, write it down and bring it up to your endocrinologist.
Hopefully, you now know a little more about endocrinology and the ways an endocrinologist might be able to help with your diabetes management program. Not everyone with diabetes needs an endocrinologist, however, if you have Type 1 diabetes or are having a hard time managing your Type 2 diabetes and haven’t yet seen one, there’s no time like the present. Ask your primary care physician to refer you to a trusted endo in your area.
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