Treatments and medications
The type of diabetes diagnosed will determine the most effective treatment plan which may involve blood sugar monitoring, oral medications and insulin. Lifestyle changes are also an integral part of managing the condition. Maintaining a healthy weight, a nutritious diet and regular activity are a vital way of life for a person with diabetes.
Typically, treatment for type 1 diabetes involves insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump. Frequent blood sugar checks and carbohydrate counting are also important for managing the condition.
Treatment for type 2 diabetes also involves monitoring blood sugar levels, as well as the taking of medications, insulin, or both.
Treatments which apply to all types of diabetes are:
- Healthy eating: There is no distinct ‘diabetes diet’. However, a diabetic person can benefit greatly from nutritious foods that are high in fibre (fruits, vegetables and whole grains). Refined carbohydrates, animal products and sweets should be kept to a minimum. What and how much a diabetic person eats can be something of a challenge. Working closely with a registered dietician who can help devise a meal plan that best fits your overall health goals, lifestyle and preferences can be enormously beneficial.
- Physical activity: Frequent aerobic exercise is essential for a diabetic individual. Exercise increases a person’s sensitivity to insulin, resulting in the body needing less to transport sugar to the cells. Exercise also helps to lower blood sugar levels by aiding movement of sugar into the cells where it is needed for energy. It is a good idea to discuss physical activity and exercise with your doctor before attempting anything and everything. Generally, activities such as biking, swimming or walking are good means of exercise. These types of activities are easily incorporated in your daily routine. If you enjoy a specific activity, aminimum of 30 minutes (or more) most days of the week will do you the world of good. If you haven’t been active for some time, start at a slow pace and gradually build up your fitness levels.
Treatment specific to type 1 and type 2 diabetes:
- Monitoring blood sugar levels: Monitoring frequency (often with a glucose monitor) will depend on the necessary treatment plan. A diabetic can check their blood sugar levels numerous times a week or as many as 4 to 8 times a day. Monitoring is the best way to ensure that levels remain within a person’s target range. As such, it is necessary for monitoring to be done with great care, even though levels can sometimes be erratic. A diabetic will soon learn how their body responds to medication, physical activity, food, other types of illnesses, alcohol, stress, and hormone fluctuations (particularly for women), and how this affects blood sugar level changes. Your doctor may also recommend regular A1C testing every 2 to 3 months to measure average blood sugar levels, which can then be compared with daily sugar test readings. An A1C test is more effective for assessing how well your overall treatment plan is working.
- Insulin: Insulin therapy for individuals with type 1 diabetes is essential for survival. Types of insulin include long-acting insulin, rapid-acting insulin and other intermediate options. A mixture of types may be prescribed to be used during the day and night. Insulin is not taken orally as stomach enzymes can interfere with its action. Instead, insulin is injected through the skin and into fatty tissue below by using syringe and fine needle (or a pump or an insulin pen).
- Oral and other medications: Medications may be prescribed as a means to help stimulate the production and release of more insulin in the pancreas. Other medications may be prescribed to suppress the production and release of glucose from the liver because less insulin is needed to assist with transferring sugar into the body’s cells. Some medications also block the action of intestinal or stomach enzymes that break down carbohydrates or make tissues more sensitive to insulin.
- Transplantation: A pancreas transplant will sometimes be a treatment option for those with type 1 diabetes. If successful, insulin therapy will no longer be needed. There are serious risks with this option, and a lifetime of immune-suppressing medications to prevent organ rejection will be necessary. Severe side effects such as an increased risk of organ injury, infection and cancer can occur. Transplants may only be considered if diabetes can’t be controlled or if an individual also needs a kidney transplant.
- Bariatric surgery: Individuals who also have a BMI (body mass index) higher than 35 and type 2 diabetes can benefit from bariatric surgery. Significant improvements in blood sugar levels have been noted in those who have had a gastric bypass procedure. For this reason, this procedure can be considered.