When you have diabetes, you’re entitled to certain checks, tests and services every year to help you get the care you need. You’ll know this as your annual review.
We call this package of care your 15 Healthcare Essentials. Having all these essential diabetes checks helps you reduce your risk of serious diabetes complications, like losing your sight or having dangerous problems with your feet.
Use our checklist (PDF, 36KB)to help you tick off all the essentials and stay on track. We can also help you take action if you’re not getting some of the checks you’re entitled to.
Knowing your essential checks puts you in the driving seat. It means you know what appointments you should be having with your healthcare team, but also what you should be doing to manage your diabetes in between appointments.
Here we take you through each one, explaining:
- what your healthcare team can help you with
- what you can do yourself.
1. Know your blood sugar levels
High blood sugar levels damage your blood vessels and make you more at risk of serious diabetes complications. And if your doctor says you’ve got slightly raised levels, this still may not be safe and you need to take action to bring them down.
You need a healthcare professional to check your average blood glucose levels at least once a year. It’s called an HbA1c blood test
And in between tests, you can keep a close eye on your levels by doing finger-prick tests or using a flash glucose monitor. Not everyone with diabetes will need to do this, but people who are on insulin and certain types of medication will need to.
We’ve got lots more info about the HbA1c test and what you can do to bring your levels down.
2. Know your blood pressure
High blood pressure increases your risk of diabetes complications like heart problems, kidney disease and serious eye damage. This is because the blood pressure puts a strain on your blood vessels and heart, so they can’t work properly.
It’s important to know that you might still feel healthy when you have high blood pressure. But it’s causing damage to your blood vessels that you can’t see and you need to get treated.
You should know how to bring the levels down if you need to. You can do this by being active, watching your weight, eating a healthy diet and with medication. Get all the facts on how to prevent high blood pressure and how to manage it.
3. Know your cholesterol (blood fats)
Good control of your blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol is critical to reducing your risk of serious complications.
Cholesterol is a type of fat (or lipids) in the blood. Too much bad cholesterol can block blood vessels and stop blood getting to important organs like your heart.
We’ve got more information on how to manage your cholesterol and keep it at a safe level.
4. Look after your eyes
You’re more at risk of serious eye damage because of your diabetes. High blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels that help the eye work properly. But while diabetes is a leading cause of preventable sight loss – you can prevent it.
You’ll be invited to an eye screening appointment every year. Screening helps your healthcare team spot any problems early and treat them in time. Never skip an appointment – you could develop a serious problem like diabetic retinopathy and spotting it early can prevent you losing your sight.
But it’s not only about eye screening. Are you checking your eyes between appointments? Did you know that even slightly high blood sugar levels affect how healthy your eyes stay?
And did you know smoking increases your risk of eye disease too? Stopping smoking is one of the best things you can do today.
Be in the know about the signs of retinopathy and how to prevent it.
5. Check your feet and legs
Having diabetes means you’re much more at risk of developing serious problems with your feet. If these aren’t treated properly, it could lead to amputation.
80% of amputations start with a foot ulcer. Know the signs. Check your feet.
6. Keep your kidneys healthy
A third of people with diabetes go on to have serious kidney problems. This is because high blood sugars and high blood pressure damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, stopping them from working properly.
You might not notice anything’s wrong with your kidneys. That’s why it’s so important you get your yearly kidney check – so your healthcare team can spot any changes in time to treat it.
You can keep your kidneys healthy by following your other essential healthcare checks, like knowing your safe HbA1c level, keeping your blood pressurein check and knowing your cholesterol.
7. Take control of your diet
Because you have diabetes, you’re entitled to dietary advice from a dietitian.
None of this means you can't still enjoy food, it’s just all about planning ahead a little more. We’ve got loads of meal planning advice to help get you started. And check out our recipes too – we’ve included information about the carbs, calories and salt in each one.
8.Talk about how you’re feeling
Being diagnosed with diabetes and living with a long-term condition can be difficult. You’ll have ups and downs. Try to talk to your doctor or nurse about anything you’re worried about. You’ve got the right to specialist psychological support if you need it.
But if you’re not ready to speak to someone in person, try our helpline. We have trained counsellors on the other end of the phone who’ll listen and can give advice. You could also give our online forum a go and chat to other people going through similar things.
9. Go to a group education course
A group education course is how you can learn everything you need to know about diabetes. It also gives you a chance to meet up with other people with diabetes.
You should be offered a diabetes education course in your area when you’re first diagnosed – or a yearly refresher course later on.
Find out what kind of education courses are on offer.
And if you need that bit extra, have you heard about our Learning Zone? It’s a place on our website where you can log in and learn about diabetes and how to manage it with confidence. Give it a try, it’s all free.
10. Know your diabetes specialists
When you have diabetes, you get your very own healthcare team made up of various specialists. You’ll see different healthcare professionals depending on what you need.
We have more detail about which healthcare professionals you might meet and advice on talking to them.
11. Book your free flu jab
You’re entitled to a free flu jab every year. This is because people with diabetes are more at risk of getting the flu and it can quickly get serious.
Flu can make your blood sugar levels go all over the place, and they can take time to get back to normal. It can make your diabetes even harder to manage so you’re more at risk of having serious blood sugar highs or lows – meaning you’d need to go into hospital straight away.
With blood sugar levels out of your target range, you’re more at risk of serious long-term problems with your eyes, feet and other areas of your body. Getting a flu jab will help you avoid this.
There are things you can do yourself too, to help you manage if you’re unwell.
Get all the facts about the flu jab and make sure yours is booked.
12. Get good care in hospital
We’ve got more information about the care you should expect in hospital and tips on talking to healthcare professionals to help them understand what you need.
13. Talk about any sexual problems
Diabetes increases the risk of sexual problems in both men and women. This can mean things like erectile dysfunction and cystitis.
It can happen because high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, so blood can’t flow to the sexual organs properly. Feelings like stress and being low can have an effect on your sex life too.
14. Stop smoking
Diabetes means you’re more at risk of getting heart disease or a stroke, and smoking increases this risk. This is because smoking makes it a lot harder for blood to flow around your body and get to your heart.
And it’s not just your heart you’re putting at risk. Smoking increases your blood pressure, which makes you more at risk of complications like sight loss, nerve damage, and a lot more.
15. Plan ahead if you want a baby
Your diabetes management has to be a lot tighter when you’re planning to have a baby, because there are a lot more risks involved.
Having children is a big decision for anyone and if you’re a woman with diabetes, it’s one that needs a lot of thought and careful planning.
Your healthcare team will be there every step of the way, from planning and pre-conception advice, to post-natal care. Make sure you’re prepared by finding out everything you need to know on diabetes and pregnancy.
Remember, be in the know during and between appointments. That way, you’ll reduce your risk of developing serious complications and keep living a healthy life with diabetes.