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  Diabetes - Treatment Options

What if I have type 1 diabetes?

  • Type 1 is the type of diabetes that people most often get before 30 years of age. All people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin (IN-suh-lin) because their bodies do not make enough of it. Insulin helps turn food into energy for the body to work.

What if I have type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 2 is the type of diabetes most people get as adults after the age of 40. But you can also get this kind of diabetes at a younger age.
  • Healthy eating, exercise, and losing weight may help you lower your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) when you find out you have type 2 diabetes. If these treatments do not work, you may need one or more types of diabetes pills to lower your blood glucose. After a few more years, you may need to take insulin shots because your body is not making enough insulin.
  • You, your doctor, and your diabetes teacher should always find the best diabetes plan for you.

Why do I need medicines for type 1 diabetes?

  • Most people make insulin in their pancreas. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. Insulin helps glucose from the foods you eat get to all parts of your body and be used for energy.
  • Because your body no longer makes insulin, you need to take insulin in shots. Take your insulin as your doctor tells you.

Why do I need medicines for type 2 diabetes?

  • If you have type 2 diabetes, your pancreas usually makes plenty of insulin. But your body cannot correctly use the insulin you make. You might get this type of diabetes if members of your family have or had diabetes. You might also get type 2 diabetes if you weigh too much or do not exercise enough.
  • After you have had type 2 diabetes for a few years, your body may stop making enough insulin. Then you will need to take diabetes pills or insulin.

You Need to Know:

  • Diabetes medicines that lower blood glucose never take the place of healthy eating and exercise.
  • If your blood glucose gets too low more than a few times in a few days, call your doctor.
  • Take your diabetes pills or insulin even if you are sick. If you cannot eat much, call your doctor.

What do I need to know about diabetes pills?

Many types of diabetes pills can help people with type 2 diabetes lower their blood glucose. Each type of pill helps lower blood glucose in a different way. The diabetes pill (or pills) you take is from one of these groups. You might know your pill (or pills) by a different name.

  • Sulfonylureas (SUL-fah-nil-YOO-ree-ahs). Stimulate your pancreas to make more insulin.
  • Biguanides (by-GWAN-ides). Decrease the amount of glucose made by your liver.
  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (AL-fa gloo-KOS-ih-dayss in-HIB-it-ers). Slow the absorption of the starches you eat.
  • Thiazolidinediones (THIGH-ah-ZO-li-deen-DYE-owns). Make you more sensitive to insulin.
  • Meglitinides (meh-GLIT-in-ides). Stimulate your pancreas to make more insulin.
  • D-phenylalanine (dee-fen-nel-AL-ah-neen) derivatives. Help your pancreas make more insulin quickly.
  • Combination oral medicines. Put together different kinds of pills.

Might I take more than one diabetes medicine at a time?

  • Yes. Your doctor may ask you to take more than one diabetes medicine at a time. Some diabetes medicines that lower blood glucose work well together. Here are examples:

Two Diabetes Pills

  • If one type of pill alone does not control your blood glucose, then your doctor might ask you to take two kinds of pills. You may take two separate pills or one pill that combines two medicines. Each type of pill has its own way of acting to lower blood glucose. Here are pills used together:
  • a sulfonylurea and metformin
  • a sulfonylurea and acarbose
  • metformin and acarbose
  • repaglinide and metformin
  • nateglinide and metformin
  • pioglitazone and a sulfonylurea
  • pioglitazone and metformin
  • rosiglitazone and metformin
  • rosiglitazone and a sulfonylurea

Diabetes Pills And Insulin

  • Your doctor might ask you to take insulin and one of these diabetes pills:
  • a sulfonylurea
  • metformin
  • pioglitazone

What Are Side Effects?

  • Side effects are changes that may happen in your body when you take a medicine. When your doctor gives you a new medicine, ask what the side effects might be.
  • Some side effects happen just when you start to take the medicine. Then they go away.
  • Some side effects happen only once in a while. You may get used to them or learn how to manage them.
  • Some side effects will cause you to stop taking the medicine. Your doctor may try another one that doesn't cause you side effects.
  • Portions of this article are reproduced from Medicines for People with Diabetes, an e-publication of the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. September 2002.

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