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Diabetes Doctor vs Endocrinologist – What is the difference?

Diabetes Doctor vs Endocrinologist – What is the difference?

  By: Editors at DiabetesIQ  |  Published: January 17, 2021   
Published: January 17, 2021   

© Piotr Adamowicz | Dreamstime.com

Quite often, people refer to the doctors that take care of their diabetes as ‘diabetes doctors’, which may create an impression that people are talking about a particular doctor’s specialty for treating all health issues associated with diabetes. In reality, this is not the case because diabetes is a complex condition, which may require expertise of multiple specialists and it is important to understand the role of each of them before planning a visit to a doctor. In most cases, however, the first doctors that diabetic patients see are their primary care physicians (PCP) or family doctors, who usually make an initial diagnosis and prescribe the first treatment. After that, they refer their patients to specialists that have most advanced knowledge and expertise in treating diabetes – endocrinologists.

It is natural for a person’s PCP to be the first healthcare professional to notice the presence of diabetes because high blood sugar is usually discovered during a routine checkup. The family doctors have solid and extensive knowledge of what diabetes is and how to treat it. And because PCPs know their patients well and have established trusting relationships with the patients, they can find the best way of explaining what diabetes is, the impact on the patient’s health, and what treatment options can be provided to manage the disease.

Nevertheless, while primary care physicians are general doctors that can provide help in a very broad range of health problems, endocrinologists are doctors certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. The additional training allows them to treat issues with hormones and the glands, which produce those hormones. That makes endocrinologists the most common specialists in the area of diabetes because pancreas is one of the main glands in the human body that produces insulin – the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar levels and turning blood sugar into usable energy for body cells.

Endocrinologists have in-depth expert knowledge of diabetes, available treatments, and the research behind those treatments, which allow the specialists to take care of the most complicated, stubborn cases of the disease. Endocrinologists have excellent knowledge of existing and new medications and an ability to incorporate proper lifestyle changes and new treatment options into an individual treatment solution for each patient.

Besides endocrinologists and family doctors, there are other healthcare professionals that help people with diabetes, who are also sometimes called ‘diabetes doctors’. Among them are dietitians, who can help diabetic patients find a suitable balanced diet; Nephrologists, doctors who specialize in kidney diseases that people with diabetes have a higher risk of developing; Podiatrists, whose expertise can be very useful for diabetic patients because circulatory problems and nerve damage are common complications of diabetes; Dentists, who can treat gum disease that also often affects people with diabetes; And ophthalmologists, who take care of such diabetes-associated eye problems as retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.

Diabetes is a dangerous disease that affects many parts of human body and to get a proper care, diabetic patients require attention of doctors specializing in multiple areas. Naturally, people tend to call all healthcare professionals who treat their condition ‘diabetes doctors’, which sometimes makes it unclear for other people to figure out what doctor they should go to. If in doubt, visiting a family doctor could be a correct first step, since they have enough training to take care of many cases of diabetes, but if the situation requires so, your primary care physician will refer you to a specialist, which in most cases will be an endocrinologist.


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