Mike Ellis was fly fishing when he first noticed a change in his vision. Ellis, an avid angler, had so much trouble focusing he struggled for 20 minutes before he was finally able to get a fly on his hook, something he'd done countless times over many years of fly fishing. Then, after casting his line, he was unable to see his lure on the water.
"I thought I'd scorched my eyeballs from being out in the sun too much," says Ellis, 63, a retired mechanical engineer in Denver.
Diabetes is a serious disease that can cause debilitating nerve pain.
An eye exam the following month revealed an equally unsettling reality: Ellis had type 2 diabetes, the most common type of the disease. Years of going undiagnosed had taken a toll on his eyesight. He had diabetic retinopathy. The blood vessels in the back of his eye were damaged, a problem that often comes with the condition.
"Diabetes damages every blood vessel in your body, including the ones in your eyes," says Robert Rizza, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. "Similar damage can also occur in your heart, your head, and your kidneys. But if you take care of yourself -- if you control your blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure -- the chances of bad things happening to you are very low."
Certainly, that's the case with Ellis. With the help of three basic tests, he has his diabetes in check. These tests can help you, too.
A simple blood test, the A1c (your doctor may call it "glycosylated hemoglobin") is done on a sample of blood taken from a finger-stick or from a small vial of it drawn from your arm. Not to be confused with the daily at-home monitoring that allows some people with diabetes to measure their blood sugars in the moment, the A1c test paints a picture of your average blood sugar level for the past 3 months.
If you can keep your hemoglobin A1c in the range of about 7%, you’re much less likely to have complications in your eyes, your kidneys, and your nerves, Rizza says.
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