Diabetes: Treatments

By Spader, Catherine RN

How is diabetes treated?

At this time, there is no cure for diabetes. With regular medical care and consistent compliance with treatment, you can manage diabetes to minimize the risk of serious complications, such as diabetic retinopathy, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

Treatment of diabetes varies depending on the type of diabetes you have. Management of all forms of diabetes includes regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels; eating a well-balanced, healthy diet; and following a regular exercise program.

Type 2 diabetes is generally treated with oral antidiabetic medications, such as glipizide, glyburide and metformin. Pregnant women with gestational diabetes may be treated with glyburide.

Type 1 diabetes is always treated with injected insulin, and some people with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes may need insulin injections as well. A new treatment that may be an option for some people with type 1 diabetes is pancreatic islet transplantation. This experimental surgery transplants insulin-producing beta cells from a donor into the pancreas of a person with type 1 diabetes.

To minimize complications, it is also important not to smoke and to follow your health care provider’s advice on preventing, monitoring, and treating any coexisting medical conditions, such as hypertension and high cholesterol.

Insulin medication used to treat diabetes

When your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin, your treatment plan may include injected insulin. Different types of insulin include:

  • Aspart (rapid-acting insulin)

  • Glulisine (rapid-acting insulin)

  • Lantus (long-acting insulin)

  • Lente (intermediate-acting insulin)

  • Levemir (long-acting insulin)

  • Lispro (rapid-acting insulin)

  • NPH (intermediate-acting insulin)

  • Regular insulin (short-acting insulin)

Oral antidiabetic drugs used to treat diabetes

Oral antidiabetic drugs work in different ways to control blood glucose, depending on the specific drug. These include helping the body to better use insulin; raising the amount of insulin in the body; blocking the liver from making sugar; or slowing the digestion of sugar. You may need to try a couple of different medications or combinations of medications to find the best treatment regimen for you, as recommended by your health care provider.

  • Acarbose (Precose)

  • Glimepiride (Amaryl)

  • Glipizide (Glucotrol)

  • Glyburide (Micronase, Glynase, Diabeta)

  • Meglitol (Glyset)

  • Metformin (Glucophage)

  • Rosiglitazone (Avandia) (restricted in 2010 by the FDA because of risks to the heart)

  • Sitagliptin phosphate (Januvia)

Other treatments for diabetes

Beyond medications, other treatments for diabetes include:

  • Counting carbohydrates

  • Dietary changes

  • Good hydration

  • Home glucose monitoring

  • Insulin pump

  • Pancreatic islet transplantation

  • Prevention and treatment of coexisting conditions and complications, such as high cholesterol and hypertension

  • Regular exercise

  • Smoking cessation

  • Weight loss as needed

  • Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery)

What are the potential complications of diabetes?

Complications of untreated or poorly managed diabetes can be serious and even life threatening. You can control diabetes and reduce your risk of complications by following the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

Poorly managed blood sugar levels damage the body’s blood vessels and organs and can lead to complications that include:

  • Birth defects

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and blindness

  • Disability

  • Excessive growth of a fetus

  • Kidney damage and kidney failure

  • Lower limb amputation

  • Newborn respiratory distress syndrome

  • Preeclampsia in a pregnant woman with diabetes

  • Serious infections and gangrene

  • Stroke

Diabetes can also lead to life-threatening emergency conditions that include:

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis

  • Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome (HHNS)

  • Hypoglycemia


What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a general term for a group of metabolic disorders that affect the body’s ability to process and use sugar (glucose) for energy. Normally when you eat, the pancreas, an organ located in the upper abdomen, produces the hormone insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream into cells where it can be used for energy and growth. With diabetes, either the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, or the body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin.... Read more about diabetesintroduction


What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms can vary among individuals and the type of diabetes. Common symptoms include excessive thirst and excessive urination.... Read more about diabetessymptoms


What causes diabetes?

The cause of diabetes varies depending on the type of diabetes.... Read more about diabetescauses

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Dec 20, 2010 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetes