Diabetes is a serious medical condition that should be closely monitored and carefully managed to prevent the development of other health complications. Your medical team will recommend making lifestyle changes, but if these don’t work, you might need to take medication.
Find out about the different treatment options for diabetes and how they work to bring your blood sugar levels under control.
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If you’re diagnosed with type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes, you can still live a normal, healthy life. However, you will need to take steps to manage your blood sugar levels to prevent damage to your body.
Your doctor will create an individualized treatment plan catered to your specific condition, medical history, other health concerns, and personal preferences. This treatment plan could include making a number of lifestyle changes to manage your condition, including:
A1C: This test will show your average blood sugar levels from the past three months. For many people with diabetes, a normal A1C goal is lower than 7%. Your doctor will let you know what yours should be.
Blood pressure: Most patients with diabetes should aim to have a blood pressure reading below 140/90mm Hg. Ask your doctor about what yours should be and the steps you can take to reach that goal.
Cholesterol: You can have good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). Bad cholesterol can build up and block your blood vessels over time, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Good cholesterol helps remove the bad cholesterol from your blood vessels. Your doctor will let you know what your cholesterol levels should be and how to lower them if they’re high.
Stop smoking: Both smoking and diabetes can narrow your blood vessels. Stopping smoking is always a smart health choice, especially if you have diabetes. Doing so can lower your risk of experiencing complications, such as heart attack or stroke, improve your blood circulation, improve your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and make exercising easier.
What you eat can have a big impact on your blood sugar levels, as well as your cholesterol and blood pressure. With this in mind, following the diabetic meal plan provided by your medical team is critical.
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, drinking water, and limiting your sugar, fat, and salt consumption can help keep your diabetes under control.
Exercising regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight and manage your blood sugar levels. Strive to incorporate around 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine, such as brisk walking, swimming, or biking.
Be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels as directed by your medical team. Your blood sugar levels can reveal if eating a healthy diet, exercising, and taking your medications are working or if changes should be made.
Your doctor can advise you on how and when to check your blood sugar levels.
Even if you feel healthy or have achieved your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure goals, it’s important to continue taking your diabetes medications as directed by your doctor.
The way your diabetes is treated will depend on what type you have, your medical history, other medications you’re taking, and other lifestyle factors.
Regardless of what your particular diagnosis is, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations on how to best manage your condition to prevent serious complications.
You must take insulin to treat type 1 diabetes, as your body is unable to produce insulin as it should. You can take insulin several times throughout the day, including at mealtimes or with an insulin pump that gradually administers a small amount of insulin into your bloodstream throughout the day.
Treatment for type 2 diabetes can vary from person to person depending on their particular condition, other health concerns, and lifestyle factors.
While some people with the condition are able to manage their blood sugar by incorporating more exercise into their daily routine and eating a well-balanced diet, many will need to take some form of medication as well. This could include oral medications, such as a pill, or a medication that is injected, like insulin.
Your medication needs could change over time or in specific circumstances, such as during pregnancy.
The best way to treat gestational diabetes is to eat a healthy diet and stay active during your pregnancy. If these lifestyle changes alone are not enough to get your blood sugar levels under control, you might need medication.
If your blood sugar level is unusually high when you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s possible for your healthcare provider to add diabetes medication to your personalized treatment plan from the start.
Insulin is a common treatment option for type 1 and type 2 diabetes and, in some cases, gestational diabetes. It comes in a variety of forms. Each has a different “onset” (the speed at which the insulin works) and “duration” (the time the insulin lasts for).
After taking a dose of insulin, it will eventually reach its peak (when it’s at its strongest in your body). The insulin in your system will gradually decrease in the hours following the peak.
Types of insulin include:
Rapid-acting insulin: Has an onset of 15 minutes, peaks at one hour, and has a duration of two to four hours.
Short-acting insulin: Has an onset of 30 minutes, peaks at two to three hours, and has a duration of three to six hours.
Intermediate-acting insulin: Has an onset of two to four hours, peaks at four to 12 hours, and has a duration of 12 to 18 hours.
Long-acting insulin: Has an onset of several hours, doesn’t peak, and has a duration of 24 hours or more.
You might need to take two types of insulin to manage your diabetes effectively. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which type(s) of insulin would be best for you.
If your doctor recommends taking insulin to manage your condition and symptoms, it’s important to discuss the best method of doing so based on your unique lifestyle, preferences, and insurance coverage.
Insulin can be taken by:
You will give yourself doses of insulin in the form of a shot with a needle and syringe.
You may be recommended to administer these injections in your abdomen for the fastest results, taking care to choose a new location for each dose. You could also use your buttocks, upper arm, or thigh.
The number of shots you’ll have to give yourself in a day will depend on how much insulin you need to reach your ideal blood sugar level. Some people might only need to administer one shot, while others need as many as four.
An insulin pump is a small machine made up of a plastic tube and a tiny needle. You place the needle under your skin and leave it there for a set amount of time (usually a few days).
This machine pumps small amounts of insulin into your body gradually throughout the day. It also allows you to administer a certain amount of insulin into your body as needed, for example, before you eat.
You can wear an insulin pump in your pocket, on a belt, or in a pouch. Another type of pump adheres directly to your skin and has no tubes.
This looks like a writing pen but has a needle at the top. While some insulin pens are disposable and come with insulin inside, others require insulin cartridges that you insert and replace after each use.
Insulin pens are not as cost-effective as needles and syringes, but many people prefer them due to their convenience.
You can use an injection port to prevent the need to puncture your skin multiple times a day with a needle and syringe or insulin pen. It works by inserting a short tube underneath your skin. The tube will be held in place with a dressing or adhesive patch. Once it has been placed, you can inject insulin directly into the port.
You can keep the port in the same place for a few days before replacing it with another one.
This involves breathing powdered insulin into your lungs through an inhaler that you hold up to your mouth. The insulin will enter your bloodstream quickly after you inhale it.
If eating a healthy diet and staying active isn’t enough to manage your blood sugar levels with type 2 diabetes, your medical team may recommend taking diabetes medication. This could include:
Metformin: This is an oral medication that works by lowering the production of glucose in your liver and helping your body use insulin more efficiently.
Sulfonylureas and glinides (prandial glucose regulators): These medications are used to encourage your pancreas to make more insulin. Both medications are known to cause weight gain and increase your risk of hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes.
Thiazolidinediones: These medications make your body more sensitive to insulin, but most have been taken off the market due to complications.
DPP-4 inhibitors: These medications help increase insulin production.
SGLT2 inhibitors: These medications prevent glucose from returning to your bloodstream from your kidneys. You then release blood sugar when urinating.
GLP1 agonists: These medications help mimic the natural incretin hormones in your body that help lower post-meal blood sugar levels.
Along with these medications, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication, medication to lower your cholesterol, and/or a low dosage of aspirin to prevent heart and blood vessel problems.
In rare cases, a combination of lifestyle changes and medication isn’t enough to control blood sugar levels. When this occurs, other treatment options may be needed. These include:
Also known as weight-loss surgery, bariatric surgery can be an effective treatment if you are obese. It allows you to lose weight quickly and regain control of your blood sugar levels.
The outcome is affected by the type of bariatric surgery performed, how much weight is lost, and how long you have had diabetes.
This system is used to replace manual blood sugar testing and insulin shots or a pump.
The system monitors your blood sugar levels every five minutes throughout the day and provides an insulin dosage as needed. It only requires manual adjustments of insulin at mealtimes, and you and your doctor can monitor the system remotely.
There are different types of diabetes, and the condition can affect everyone differently. It can usually be well-managed through lifestyle changes and medications.
While eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and checking your blood sugar levels are all important steps to help manage your condition, sometimes they are not enough, and you need treatment. When this occurs, taking a medication, such as an oral diabetic pill or insulin, may be necessary.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice carefully and stick to your recommended treatment plan. Doing so is the best way to keep your blood sugar levels under control, manage your diabetes symptoms, and live a healthy life.