For someone who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, lots of questions may come up about the kind of diabetes they have, what medications are available, and what measures will keep their specific condition under control. The most common treatments recommended by doctors to effectively manage diabetes can include some combination of diet and exercise, non-insulin oral or injectable medications, and injectable insulin therapy. It’s important to recognize that the recommended treatment is usually influenced by several factors, including the type of diabetes diagnosis and each individual’s characteristics.
Insulin Therapy for Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when insulin is no longer produced by the pancreas. When you have a meal, the body uses the food to produce glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. This blood glucose is then metabolized by the hormone insulin, which converts blood glucose into useable energy. When the body fails to produce the necessary insulin, there is a risk that the body could go into a dangerous hyperglycemic (too much blood sugar) or hypoglycemic (too little blood sugar) event.
While doctors do recommend a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise to their patients with type 1 diabetes, these measures are not enough to treat their condition. The only effective way to treat type 1 diabetes is through injectable insulin therapy, or the introduction of external insulin into the body. This approach usually involves regular blood sugar monitoring (using a finger prick or insulin pump with continuous glucose monitoring to test sugar levels), careful carb/sugar-counting to better control how much sugar your body has to process, and insulin injections several times a day.
A common tool for those undergoing insulin therapy is to use a touchscreen insulin pump to avoid some of the trouble of carrying insulin and needles around or the pain of regular injections. These devices are easy to operate and require little knowledge of technology. Non-insulin oral and injectable medications are usually not recommended for those with type 1 diabetes.
Treatment Options and Combined Treatments for Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is no longer producing or using insulin effectively. In this case, when someone with this kind of diabetes has a meal, there is either not enough insulin in the bloodstream to metabolize the available blood glucose, or the insulin that exists is not metabolizing the blood glucose as it would in a person without diabetes (called insulin resistance). As with type 1 diabetes, when the body doesn’t effectively absorb blood glucose, there is a risk of a dangerous hyperglycemic (too much blood sugar) or hypoglycemic (too little blood sugar) event.
Doctors will often begin by recommending lifestyle changes for people with type 2 diabetes. These changes include eating a healthy, balanced diet low in sugar and incorporating exercise into their daily routine. It has been shown that these activities in particular can help to improve the body’s control of sugar in the blood and the efficiency of insulin use.
When diet and exercise are not enough to effectively control and manage type 2 diabetes, or if the patient is simply no longer producing any/enough insulin, their doctor may recommend beginning treatment with certain non-insulin oral medications, non-insulin injectable medications, or injectable insulin therapy.
The non-insulin oral and injectable medications that are available today work to control the way the body produces blood glucose and uses insulin — increasing insulin sensitivity — in patients who still continue to produce insulin. Patients with advanced type 2 diabetes may not be recommended these medications because they are no longer producing insulin and therefore must undergo insulin therapy, like people with type 1 diabetes. These patients may also be interested in speaking with their doctor to learn more about the ease-of-use that comes along with a touch screen insulin pump.
Non-insulin oral and injectable diabetes medications can often be combined with each other to improve blood sugar control in patients whose bodies continue to produce insulin, and certain ones can also be used while undergoing injectable insulin therapy. If you are prescribed an oral or injectable medication to treat your diabetes, your doctor will be able to better explain the purpose of that specific medication and how it affects your body’s blood glucose metabolization.
Speak to a Professional
If you’re having trouble understanding your diagnosis, your recommended treatments, or the medications available, speak to your doctor or a diabetes educator. These professionals can help you to develop a diabetes care plan that make sense, works for your particular lifestyle, and keeps you in control of your diabetes.