There is no cure for diabetes, but it usually can be treated and managed effectively. In fact, 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 healthcare provider will consider a comprehensive list of factors—your age; overall health; medical history; type of diabetes; extent of the disease; tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies; expectations for the course of the disease; and your opinion or preferences—when assessing your treatment options. Treatments primarily involve diabetes medication, insulin therapy, and/or a diet and exercise plan.
Several different classes of oral medications are available to treat type 2 diabetes, and they are effective because these patients still have some ability to produce insulin in the pancreas. There are many types of diabetes pills, each with a specific purpose, and most patients take several different medications. There are no similar medications to treat people with type 1 diabetes. However, these medications may be used in combination with an insulin regime to manage blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetics. Learn more about drugs that lower blood sugar levels.
Insulin therapy is needed for people with type 1 diabetes because their pancreases no longer produce it naturally. In type 2 diabetics, the pancreas produces low levels of insulin and may need insulin therapy if other types of treatment do not adequately maintain healthy glucose levels.
Because 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.
Not all insulin is the same. They differentiate from each other by several factors: when the isulin begins working after injection, when it works the hardest, 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
Regularly checking your blood sugar level is the only way to know if your blood sugar levels remain within your target range. Food, exercise, medications, illnesses, alcohol, time of day, and stress can all affect your glucose levels, causing many unwanted fluctuations.
The more you test your blood sugar and know how your body responds to those factors, the safer you will be. Also, paying attention to any signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can help manage your diabetes. Should you experience symptoms of either, immediately check your glucose level.
You doctor also may recommend regular testing, beyond your regular blood-sugar monitoring, of how effective your diabetes treatment plan is. A common way to do this through called A1C testing. It is 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. While a patient's target A1C goal varies depending on age and other factors, the American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C reading of below seven percent for most people.
Diet plays a crucial part in managing diabetes. However, no single diet is perfect for everyone. Diabetics, possibly in conjunction with advice from a dietician, should stick to highly nutritious foods that are low in fat and calories, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limiting animal products and sugars also helps in maintaining 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 dietician discover the foods are best for you and those you should avoid.
Exercise helps diabetics by lowering their blood sugar. Physical activity not only helps maintain a healthy weight, but it also transports sugar to cells where it is turned into energy. Along with this, aerobic exercise 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.
Pancreas transplants are usually reserved for people whose diabetes has become so severe that it is unmanageable through traditional treatments. As with any organ transplants, pancreas transplants require immune system-suppressing drugs to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ. Those drugs increase the likelihood of serious side effects, including infection, organ injury, and even cancer. However, if a pancreas transplant is successful, the patient no longer will need insulin treatment because the new pancreas will naturally produce insulin and regulate glucose.