The 411 on Diabetes Medications

How oral and injected medicines help manage blood sugar

Diabetes Medications

When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough of the hormone insulin or the insulin doesn’t work well. Since insulin helps deliver glucose (sugar) to your cells, having diabetes means that glucose builds up in your blood and your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs. Taking medicine is an important part of managing diabetes.

Karen Kemmis, DPT, CDE, of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, describes managing diabetes as a triangle. “At the three points of that triangle are healthy eating, being physically active, and taking diabetes medications,” Kemmis says. “At the center is checking blood glucose.” Without proper treatment, diabetes can lead to fatigue, infections, and serious complications, such as blindness, kidney disease, and stroke.

Your doctor will help you make a treatment plan that works for you, including deciding on the right medications. There are two primary types of medications that help manage diabetes: oral and injectable. Here are the main differences.

Oral Medicine for Diabetes
There’s a lengthy list of diabetes medications that are taken by mouth. Sometimes these medicines are combined and work in different ways to lower your blood sugar level. Most of them help provide the following benefits:

  • make tissue more sensitive to insulin
  • prompt the body to release more insulin
  • reduce the amount of sugar the intestines absorb
  • produce and get rid of excess sugar (by the liver and kidneys, respectively)

If you’re taking oral medication to manage diabetes, remember these tips:

  • Diabetes medications work better when combined with an eating and exercise plan.
  • Your doctor may reduce or stop your medication as you follow your eating and exercise plan.
  • Get familiar with your medicines, including their names, when and how much to take, the side effects, and how your diabetes medicine might interact with other medicine you take.
  • Talk with your doctor about your medication habits and if you are having trouble following your treatment plan.

Injected Medicine for Diabetes
Insulin is the primary medicine given by injection to treat type 1 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, there are different treatment options available. If your body cannot make insulin or if the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly, your doctor may recommend that you take insulin.

People who might be candidates for insulin:

  • those with type 1 diabetes
  • those with type 2 diabetes who have taken oral diabetes medications that weren’t able to control their blood sugar level or became less effective over time
  • women with gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

If your health-care provider recommends that you take insulin, discuss the options. There are several different kinds of insulin, including short-, rapid-, intermediate-, and long-acting, as well as combinations. Insulin can be delivered by syringe, pen device, or pump. In addition to injected insulin, there is also an inhaled version.

Aside from insulin, there are other injected diabetes medicines that help control blood sugar. Amylin analogue and incretin mimetics slow the digestion rate, suppress the appetite, lower glucose production in the liver, or increase insulin production.

Medications for Other Conditions
People with type 1 and 2 diabetes are often treated with other medications for conditions common among people with diabetes. Your doctor may prescribe aspirin or drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.