Managing diabetes means managing the health of the whole body. This is why, in an ideal world, your diabetes team will include specialists from different fields.
Your diabetes team should include a GP, diabetes nurse educator, endocrinologist, dietitian, podiatrist and ophthalmologist. Your diabetes care team will help you develop a diabetes management plan to help you stay healthy and prevent any diabetes-related complications
General Practitioner (GP)
First line of defense for diabetes
In the private sector, your GP is usually your main contact for diabetes management. It’s vital to schedule regular check-ups with your primary care doctor so they can effectively monitor your overall health and existing conditions, like diabetes.
Your diabetes nurse educator is a specialist nurse who helps you better understand your condition and how to live with it.
They assist you with the day-to-day basics of managing of your diabetes. They work together with your family or caretakers to help them manage your diabetes and help you with the discipline in looking after yourself. They also help you understand how to use diabetes devices, such as blood glucose meters, insulin pens, insulin pumps and CGMs (continuous glucose monitors).
An endocrinologist is a doctor who specialises in endocrinology, a field that studies conditions related to your hormones. Insulin is a hormone and thus your endocrinologist will look after your condition more closely than the rest of your team.
They prescribe your medication and can adjust or change it as they are experts in their field. They keep track of your kidney function, cholesterol and thyroid gland, to name a few, and will prescribe medication if needed. They can spot trends and make adjustments. They interpret your data. They know and understand the effect of medications in diabetes care and can offer advice with a lot of experience. You will see them at least once a year for a check-up and in some cases twice or more if necessary.
Helps you understand how diet affect your blood sugar levels.
Dieticians study the science of food and nutrition, and use nutrition therapy to prevent and treat everything from obesity to diabetes, heart disease and more.
They can also help with sports nutrition, allergies and food intolerances, and diets through various life stages (like pregnancy). But in relation to diabetes management, your dietician will help you to understand how your diet affects your diabetes and to consider the options available to you, then make a plan so that you can make changes to achieve your goals.
Your dietician can also provide nutrition education and counseling to people with diabetes both individually and within a group setting, using a variety of tools. These might include food/blood glucose records, carbohydrate counting, glycaemic index, portion modelling, meal planning, label reading, cooking/recipe adjustments and behaviour change.
Podiatrists play a key role in the early detection and treatment of foot problems in people with diabetes.
Nerve damage, joint damage, blood vessel damage, and other complications can be avoided or delayed with annual comprehensive foot exams and treatment if needed.
People living with diabetes are advised to visit a podiatrist at least once a year. On your initial exam, your podiatrist will tell you if you are at low or high risk for complications in your feet.
We all have a role to play to help people with diabetes live their best life! Optometrists and ophthalmologists are eye care specialists who play a key role in the early detection and timely treatment of diabetes-related eye diseases such as retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Having a diabetes eye health exam each year helps find diabetic retinopathy early. You may not notice changes to your eyesight until diabetic retinopathy is advanced. This is why it’s important to have a diabetes eye health exam each year.
Mental health is an essential part of diabetes management. Anyone with diabetes is at greater risk of diabetes distress and burnout, as well as depression. Here’s how to access mental health services in the public sector.
What to read next?
The best diabetes specialists in South Africa: If you’re looking for a diabetes specialist, take a look at this list.
Take your diabetes medication: All the most helpful medication tips from the experts.
Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.