Physical Exam

Here's what you can expect during a physical exam for diabetes:

The doctor will check your height and weight since being overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes. If you are overweight, you will benefit from weight loss in two ways. First, losing weight lowers your resistance to insulin. This means that your body's natural insulin can do a better job of controlling your blood glucose levels. Second, weight loss can improve your cholesterol and blood pressure. This is a good way to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease.


The doctor will take your blood pressure since many people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people who have diabetes aim for a blood pressure level of 130/80 mm Hg or less. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. So it's important to follow your treatment plan if you have high blood pressure.

The doctor will check your eyes because diabetes puts you at risk for eye disease. You probably won't notice any symptoms until they have progressed far enough to damage your eyesight. So having your eyes checked can help prevent problems. If you have diabetes, each year your doctor should refer you to an eye specialist for a complete eye exam. This exam should include having your eyes dilated so that your doctor can check your retinas in the backs of your eyes.

The doctor will check your mouth and gums to look for any changes. Diabetes may weaken your mouth's germ-fighting powers, which can lead to gum disease. Your doctor may also ask about your dental health.

Your doctor will check your thyroid gland by lightly feeling your neck to check for any abnormalities. People who have type 1 diabetes are at greater risk for thyroid disease.

Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs using a stethoscope. The doctor will also take your pulse. Heart disease is more common in people who have diabetes.

Your doctor will look at your hands, fingers, and feet to check for damaged blood vessels and nerves. Your doctor will also want to check the sensation and pulses in your feet.

Your doctor will look over your skin to see if you have any of the skin problems that are common in people who have diabetes. People who have diabetes are more at risk for skin problems such as itching, bacterial and fungal infections, and a number of diabetes-related skin conditions.

Written by award-winning health writer Bobbie Hasselbring

Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD

Last updated June 2008