Over time, high levels of blood glucose, also called blood sugar, can cause health problems. These problems include heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, nerve damage, digestive problems, eye disease, and tooth and gum problems. You can help prevent health problems by keeping your blood glucose levels on target.
Everyone with diabetes needs to choose foods wisely and be physically active. If you can't reach your target blood glucose levels with wise food choices and physical activity, you may need medication. The kind of medicine you take depends on your type of diabetes, your schedule, and your other health conditions.
Diabetes medicines help keep your blood glucose in your target range. The target range is suggested by diabetes experts and your doctor or diabetes educator.
Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin daily—for some.
Treatment includes taking diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, and taking aspirin daily—for some.
Recommended targets for blood glucose levels
Blood glucose levels go up and down throughout the day and night in people with diabetes. High blood glucose levels over time can result in heart disease and other health problems. Low blood glucose levels can make you feel shaky or pass out. But you can learn how to make sure your blood glucose levels stay on target—not too high and not too low.
The National Diabetes Education Program uses blood glucose targets set by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for most people with diabetes. To learn your daily blood glucose numbers, you'll check your blood glucose levels on your own using a blood glucose meter. Target blood glucose levels for most people with diabetes: Before meals 70 to 130 mg/dL; one to two hours after the start of a meal less than 180 mg/dL.
Also, you should ask your doctor for a blood test called the A1C at least twice a year. The A1C will give you your average blood glucose for the past 3 months and should be less than 7 percent. Ask your doctor what's right for you.
The results of your A1C test and your daily blood glucose checks can help you and your doctor make decisions about your diabetes medicines, food choices, and physical activity.
Types of diabetes medicines
If your body no longer makes enough insulin, you'll need to take it. Insulin is used for all types of diabetes. It helps keep blood glucose levels on target by moving glucose from the blood into your body's cells. Your cells then use glucose for energy. In people who don't have diabetes, the body makes the right amount of insulin on its own. But when you have diabetes, you and your doctor must decide how much insulin you need throughout the day and night and which way of taking it is best for you.
- Injections. This involves giving yourself shots using a needle and syringe. The syringe is a hollow tube with a plunger which you fill with your dose of insulin. Some people use an insulin pen, which has a needle for its point.
- Insulin pump. An insulin pump is a small machine about the size of a cell phone, worn outside of your body on a belt or in a pocket or pouch. The pump connects to a small plastic tube and a very small needle. The needle is inserted under the skin where it stays in for several days. Insulin is pumped from the machine through the tube into your body.
- Insulin jet injector. The jet injector, which looks like a large pen, sends a fine spray of insulin through the skin with high-pressure air instead of a needle.
Some people with diabetes who use insulin need to take it two, three, or four times a day to reach their blood glucose targets. Others can take a single shot. Each type of insulin works at a different speed. For example, rapid-acting insulin starts to work right after you take it. Long-acting insulin works for many hours. Most people need two or more types of insulin to reach their blood glucose targets.
Possible side effects include: low blood glucose and weight gain.
Along with meal planning and physical activity, diabetes pills help people with type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes keep their blood glucose levels on target. Several kinds of pills are available. Each works in a different way. Many people take two or three kinds of pills. Some people take combination pills that contain two kinds of diabetes medicine in one tablet. Some people take pills and insulin.
If your doctor suggests that you take insulin or another injected medicine, it doesn't mean your diabetes is getting worse. Instead, it means you need insulin or another type of medicine to reach your blood glucose targets. Everyone is different. What works best for you depends on your usual daily routine, eating habits, and activities, and your other health conditions.
Injections other than insulin
In addition to insulin, two other types of injected medicines are now available. Both work with insulin—either the body's own or injected—to help keep your blood glucose from going too high after you eat. Neither is a substitute for insulin.