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Diabetes Medicines

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps the glucose get into your cells to give them energy. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood.

What are the treatments for diabetes?

Treatments for diabetes depend on the type. Common treatments include a diabetic meal plan, regular physical activity, and medicines. Some less common treatments are weight loss surgery for either type and an artificial pancreas or pancreatic islet transplantation for some people with type 1 diabetes.

Who needs diabetes medicines?

People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin to control their blood sugar.

Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar with healthy food choices and physical activity. But for others, a diabetic meal plan and physical activity are not enough. They need to take diabetes medicines.

The kind of medicine you take depends on your type of diabetes, daily schedule, medicine costs, and other health conditions.

What are the types of medicines for type 1 diabetes?

If you have type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin because your body no longer makes it. Different types of insulin start to work at different speeds, and the effects of each last a different length of time. You may need to use more than one type.

You can take insulin several different ways. The most common are with a needle and syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. If you use a needle and syringe or a pen, you have to take insulin several times during the day, including with meals. An insulin pump gives you small, steady doses throughout the day. Less common ways to take insulin include Inhalers, injection ports, and jet injectors.

In rare cases, taking insulin alone might not be enough to manage your blood sugar. Then you would need to take another diabetes medicine.

What are the types of medicines for type 2 diabetes?

There are several different medicines for type 2 diabetes. Each works in a different way. Many diabetes medicines are pills. There are also medicines that you inject under your skin, such as insulin.

Over time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to manage your blood sugar. You might add another diabetes medicine or switch to a combination medicine. A combination medicine is a pill than contains more than one type of diabetes medicine. Some people with type 2 diabetes take both pills and insulin.

Even if you don't usually take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital.

What else should I know about taking medicines for diabetes?

Even if you take medicines for diabetes, you still need to eat a healthy diet and do regular physical activity. These will help you manage your diabetes.

It is important to make sure that you understand your diabetes treatment plan. Talk to your provider about

  • What your target blood sugar level is
  • What to do if your blood sugar gets too low or too high
  • Whether your diabetes medicines will affect other medicines you take
  • Any side effects you have from the diabetes medicines

You should not change or stop your diabetes medicines on your own. Talk to your provider first.

Some people who take diabetes medicines may need medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other conditions. This may help you avoid or control any complications of diabetes.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Diabetic Diet

If you have diabetes, your body cannot make or properly use insulin. This leads to high blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Healthy eating helps keep your blood sugar in your target range. It is a critical part of managing your diabetes, because controlling your blood sugar can prevent the complications of diabetes.

A registered dietitian can help make an eating plan just for you. It should take into account your weight, medicines, lifestyle, and other health problems you have.

Healthy diabetic eating includes

  • Limiting foods that are high in sugar
  • Eating smaller portions, spread out over the day
  • Being careful about when and how many carbohydrates you eat
  • Eating a variety of whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables every day
  • Eating less fat
  • Limiting your use of alcohol
  • Using less salt

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Diabetic Foot

If you have diabetes, your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Over time, this can damage your nerves or blood vessels. Nerve damage from diabetes can cause you to lose feeling in your feet. You may not feel a cut, a blister or a sore. Foot injuries such as these can cause ulcers and infections. Serious cases may even lead to amputation. Damage to the blood vessels can also mean that your feet do not get enough blood and oxygen. It is harder for your foot to heal, if you do get a sore or infection.

You can help avoid foot problems. First, control your blood sugar levels. Good foot hygiene is also crucial:

  • Check your feet every day
  • Wash your feet every day
  • Keep the skin soft and smooth
  • Smooth corns and calluses gently
  • If you can see, reach, and feel your feet, trim your toenails regularly. If you cannot, ask a foot doctor (podiatrist) to trim them for you.
  • Wear shoes and socks at all times
  • Protect your feet from hot and cold
  • Keep the blood flowing to your feet

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Diabetic Nerve Problems

If you have diabetes, your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Over time, this can damage the covering on your nerves or the blood vessels that bring oxygen to your nerves. Damaged nerves may stop sending messages, or may send messages slowly or at the wrong times.

This damage is called diabetic neuropathy. Over half of people with diabetes get it. Symptoms may include

  • Numbness in your hands, legs, or feet
  • Shooting pains, burning, or tingling
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Problems with sexual function
  • Urinary problems
  • Dizziness when you change positions quickly

Your doctor will diagnose diabetic neuropathy with a physical exam and nerve tests. Controlling your blood sugar can help prevent nerve problems, or keep them from getting worse. Treatment may include pain relief and other medicines.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Medical Ethics

The field of ethics studies principles of right and wrong. There is hardly an area in medicine that doesn't have an ethical aspect. For example, there are ethical issues relating to

  • End of life care: Should a patient receive nutrition? What about advance directives and resuscitation orders?
  • Abortion: When does life begin? Is it ethical to terminate a pregnancy with a birth defect?
  • Genetic and prenatal testing: What happens if you are a carrier of a defect? What if testing shows that your unborn baby has a defect?
  • Birth control: Should it be available to minors?
  • Is it ethical to harvest embryonic stem cells to treat diseases?
  • Organ donation: Must a relative donate an organ to a sick relative?
  • Your personal health information: who has access to your records?
  • Patient rights: Do you have the right to refuse treatment?
  • When you talk with your doctor, is it ethical for her to withhold information from you or your family?