Diabetes Treatments

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 6, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 6, 2014

Diabetes Treatment

There is no cure yet for diabetes, but it can usually be treated and managed effectively. Some people with mild type 2 diabetes can manage their condition with just diet and exercise and can avoid even having to take medication. Your doctor will consider a comprehensive list of factors when assessing your treatment options. These include:

  • your age
  • overall health
  • medical history
  • type of diabetes
  • extent of the disease
  • tolerance for specific medications
  • past procedures or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preferences

Treatments primarily involve a diet and exercise plan, diabetes pills, and insulin or other injections.

Diabetes Drugs

Several different classes of oral medications are available to treat type 2 diabetes. Some are effective because these patients still have some ability to produce insulin in the pancreas. There are many types of diabetes pills and injections, each with a specific purpose. Some patients take several different medications. Some of these medications may be used in combination with an insulin regime to manage blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin Therapy

Insulin therapy is needed for people with type 1 diabetes because their pancreases no longer produce it naturally. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin doesn’t work appropriately in the body, or the pancreas often produces too little insulin. This can cause some patients to require insulin therapy if other types of treatment do not adequately maintain healthy glucose levels.

Since stomach enzymes interfere with insulin, ingesting insulin orally isn't effective in lowering blood sugar in diabetics. Insulin must be directly introduced into the bloodstream via injection. Common forms of delivery include a needle and syringe, an insulin pen that contains an insulin cartridge, or an insulin pump that continuously administers proper doses. New forms of inhaled insulin are also in development.

Not all insulin is the same. They differentiate from each other by when the insulin begins working after injection, when it reaches peak effectiveness, and how long it lingers in the body. For these reasons, your doctor may prescribe different types of insulin to use at different times of the day. These include:

  • rapid-acting insulin
  • short-acting insulin
  • long-acting insulin
  • intermediate options

Glucose Monitoring

Regularly checking your blood sugar level is the only way to know if your blood sugar levels remain within your target range. Factors that can affect your glucose levels and cause many unwanted fluctuations include:

  • food
  • exercise
  • medications
  • illnesses
  • alcohol
  • time of day
  • stress

The more you test your blood sugar and know how your body responds to those factors, the safer you will be. Paying attention to any signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can also help you manage your diabetes. If you experience symptoms of either, immediately check your glucose level and treat accordingly.

Another way to check how effective your diabetes treatment plan is working is by testing your HbA1C level. It’s not only the international standard for a diabetes diagnosis, but it measures your average blood sugar level over a period of two to three months. The test determines if changes need to be made to diet, insulin regimen, or other factors. A patient's target A1C goal varies depending on age and other factors. The American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C reading of below 7 percent for some people, but different people may have different appropriate goals. Patients should discuss their individualized HbA1C target levels with a doctor.

Diet

Diet plays a crucial part in managing diabetes. However, no single diet is perfect for everyone. People living with diabetes, along with advice from a dietician, should stick to highly nutritious foods that are low in fat and calories like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Limiting food portions also helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Balancing proportionate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, and fats are key to managing diabetes. Regular blood sugar monitoring after meals can help you and your doctor or dietitian discover the foods that are best for you, as well as the foods you should avoid.

Exercise

Exercise helps people with diabetes by lowering their blood sugar. Physical activity not only helps maintain a healthy weight, it also transports sugar to cells where it’s turned into energy. Aerobic exercise also increases a person's sensitivity to insulin. With exercise, a person's body needs less insulin to transport sugar. While every person's diabetes treatment varies, getting about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day can help manage your diabetes. As with any part of your diabetes treatment, work with your doctor on an exercise program that fits your age and fitness level.

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