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Diabetes (Mellitus, Type 1 and Type 2) (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care

If a person has diabetes and experiences any of the following, call a health care professional:

  • Experiencing diabetes symptoms: this may mean that the person's blood sugar level is not being controlled despite treatment
  • Blood sugar levels, when tested, are consistently high (more than 200 mg/dL): Persistently high blood sugar levels are the root cause of all of the complications of diabetes.
  • The patient's blood sugar level is often low (less than 70 mg/dL): this may mean that the diabetes management strategy is too aggressive. It also may be a sign of infection or other stress on the body's organs such as kidney failure, liver failure, adrenal gland failure, or the concomitant use of certain medications.
  • An injury to the foot or leg, no matter how minor: even the tiniest cut or blister can become very serious in a person with diabetes. Early diagnosis and treatment of problems with the feet and lower extremities, along with regular diabetic foot care, are critical in preserving the function of the legs and preventing amputation.
  • Low-grade fever (less than 101.5 F or 38.6 C): Fever is a sign of infection. In patients with diabetes, many common infections can potentially be more dangerous for them than for other people. Note any symptoms, such as painful urination, redness or swelling of the skin, abdominal pain, chest pain, or cough, that may indicate where the infection is located.
  • Nausea or vomiting, but can keep liquids down: The health care professional may adjust medications while the patient is sick, and will probably recommend an urgent office visit or a visit to the emergency department. Persistent nausea and vomiting can be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition, as well as several other serious illnesses.
  • Small sore(s) (ulcer) on the foot or leg: Any non-healing sore or ulcer on the feet or legs of someone with diabetes needs to be seen by a medical professional right away. A sore less than 1 inch across, not draining pus, and not exposing deep tissue or bone, can safely be evaluated by a health care professional, as long as the patient does not have fever and their blood sugar levels are under control.
When you call a health care professional, tell them that you or someone you know has diabetes and are concerned.
  • The patient will probably be referred to a nurse who will ask questions and make a recommendation about what to do.
  • Be prepared for this conversation. Have a list of medications, medical problems, allergies to medicines, and a blood sugar diary handy by the phone.
  • The nurse may need any or all of this information to decide both the urgency of the patient's condition and how best to recommend treatment for the problem.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/3/2014

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