Proper treatment for type 2 diabetes is crucial. If left uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes can cause chronically high blood sugar levels that damage your organs and blood vessels.

Recall of metformin extended-release

Due to unacceptable levels of a probable carcinogen (cancer causing substance) found in some metformin extended-release tablets, the FDA recommended some makers recall their tablets from the US market in May 2020. Your doctor will be able to advise if you should continue your medication or get a new prescription.

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Three types of treatment are used:

Lifestyle changes are enough to keep diabetes under control for some people. If the disease progresses, you‘re more likely to need to take medications that help keep your blood sugar levels in a safe range. You may need to take insulin if your body is unable to produce an adequate amount of insulin even with medication.

Keep reading as we take a deeper look at each of these three diabetes treatments.

Lifestyle changes for treating type 2 diabetes largely consist of eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding stress or smoking.

Here are some recommended lifestyle changes to help treat type 2 diabetes:

  • Reduce refined carbohydrates. Replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grain carbohydrates can help keep your blood sugar from spiking. For example, you can replace white bread with whole grain bread or white rice with brown rice.
  • Manage stress. Stress or anxiety can elevate your blood sugar levels and make your diabetes more difficult to manage.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking can accelerate blood vessel damage in people with diabetes. Growing evidence also suggests that people who smoke are at a higher risk of developing diabetes than nonsmokers.
  • Try to maintain a moderate weight. In a 2018 study, researchers found that 86 percent of people with type 2 diabetes who lost 33 pounds or more achieved diabetes remission.
  • Exercise regularly. The American Diabetes Association recommends physical activity to people with diabetes to help lower cardiovascular risk factors and maintain a moderate body weight.

The main goal of type 2 diabetes medications is to prevent side effects such as eye, nerve, or cardiovascular damage. Medication is needed when your blood sugar can’t be controlled with lifestyle habits alone.

Here’s a look at some of the most commonly used medications:

Medication classExample brandsDescription
BiguanidesGlucophage, FortametIncludes metformin, which is often the first medication doctors recommend. Reduces the amount of glucose released into your blood by your liver, and makes your tissues more sensitive to insulin.
Alpha-glucosidase inhibitorsPrecose, GlysetDelays the absorption of carbohydrates in your intestines and lowers your blood sugar levels.
Dopamine agonistCyclosetThought to change levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in a part of your brain called your hypothalamus.
Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors Janumet XR, OnglyzaBlocks the enzymes which break down hormones (incretin) that signal the pancreas to make insulin. Also slows digestion and the release of sugar into your blood from your food.
Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonistsTrulicity, BydureonHelps your pancreas release more insulin when your blood sugar is high. Also helps slow digestion.
Meglitinides Prandin, StarlixTriggers the release of insulin from your pancreas after eating.
Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors Invokana, FarxigaHelps your body get rid of more blood sugar through your urine.
Sulfonylureas DiaBeta, GlynaseHelps your pancreas produce more insulin.
Thiazolidinediones ActosMakes your tissues more sensitive to insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. In the early stages, your pancreas increases insulin production to account for decreased insulin sensitivity. As the disease progresses, your body stops producing enough insulin, and you may need to take insulin medication.

Here’s a look at the types of insulin used to treat type 2 diabetes.

TypeTime to take effectDuration
Rapid-actingAbout 15 minutes with peak in 1 hour 2–4 hours
Short-acting (Regular)About 30 minutes with peak in 2–3 hours 3–6 hours
Intermediate-actingAbout 2 to 4 hours with peak in 2–4 hours 12–18 hours
Long-actingAbout hours after injection with no peak 24 hours or longer

Monitoring your blood glucose levels helps you understand the effects of certain exercises or foods on your blood sugar levels. This can help you create a diabetes plan with your doctor. Your doctor can advise you how often to check your blood glucose levels, but it’s usually at least once per day.

You can check your sugars with a glucometer, which is a classic finger-prick test. Another option is a continuous glucose monitor that inserts into your arm or abdomen. Monitors approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include:

Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes, medications, and insulin.

Some people are able to control their blood sugar with lifestyle changes alone. If the disease progresses, you’re more likely to need medications or insulin to help keep your blood sugar at a safe level.

Your doctor can advise you on which treatment strategies are best for you.