Diabetes: Tests to Watch for Complications

Topic Overview

The table below summarizes the tests that can be done to identify complications from diabetes, including those tests done during a physical examination. The physical examination evaluates your overall health. The doctor pays special attention to your eyes, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves, abdomen, and feet. Tests range from taking your blood pressure to drawing blood to test your cholesterol or kidney function. For children with diabetes, the doctor may recommend testing more or less often.

Complications from diabetes and the tests used to detect them footnote 1

Organ or condition


What it shows

Target level

High blood sugar

Most people with diabetes should have a hemoglobin A1c test every 3 to 6 months.

How steady your blood sugar levels have been over time

  • 7.0% or less for most non-pregnant adults
  • 7.0% or less (if it can be safely achieved) for most pregnant adults
  • 7.0% or less for teens 13 to 18 years old with type 1 diabetes
  • 7.5% or less for children 6 to 12 years old with type 1 diabetes
  • Less than 8.0% for children younger than 6 years old with type 1 diabetes
  • 7.0% or less for most children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes

High cholesterol

Every year, get your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels checked.

The amount of fat in your blood, which can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke

  • LDL 2.0 mmol/L or less

High blood pressure

At every doctor's visit, have your blood pressure checked.

Pressure of blood flow in your arteries

Less than 130 mm Hg systolic (top number) and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic (bottom number)


Every year, have your urine checked for the protein albumin. Also, have your blood checked for the waste product creatinine.

These are used to calculate an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).

Whether kidney disease is developing

The stage of kidney disease, if you already have it

  • ACR less than 2.0 mg/mmol
  • 24-hour urine albumin less than 30 mg per day
  • Estimated glomular filtration rate (eGFR) greater than 60 mL/in.


Visit an ophthalmologist an optometrist for a dilated eye examination (ophthalmoscopy).

If you have type 1 diabetes, get tested every year.

If you have type 2 diabetes, get tested every year. If your eye examination results are normal or you have a very small amount of retinopathy, your doctor may consider follow-up examinations every 1 to 2 years.

Whether retinopathy (damage to back of the eye) has developed

No retinal damage


Every year, get a thorough examination of your feet.

Whether foot ulcers have developed and whether the person has lost any sensation

No foot ulcers or loss of sensation


Your dentist will recommend how often to have routine checkups. Many people should see their dentists once or twice a year.

Gum disease

Healthy gums and teeth


All children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes should have a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test every two years.

Women with type 1 diabetes during pregnancy should be screened for postpartum thyroiditis at 6 to 8 weeks postpartum.

Thyroid disease

Normal thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level

Celiac disease

For children with type 1 diabetes who have problems with foods that contain gluten, the doctor will recommend screening.

No celiac disease antibodies are found in your child's blood.

Related Information



  1. Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee (2013). Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 clinical practice guidelines for the prevention and management of diabetes in Canada. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 37(Suppl 1). Also available online: http://guidelines.diabetes.ca.


Current as ofJuly 25, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
David C. W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Matthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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