More than ever, a diabetes patient is in the driver’s seat to control how much the disease will impact his or her life, say experts.
The serious complications of diabetes that used to be commonplace—such as blindness, kidney problems and foot problems—are rarer today and as awareness about the disease increases, diabetes is being detected earlier, allowing treatment to begin before serious complications occur.
While some people with diabetes need only an improved diet and exercise to control the disease, many will still require medication. There are definitely more treatment options available for diabetes today than ever before.
Insulin remains the primary treatment for type 1 diabetes, in which the body fails to produce insulin. However, for type 2 diabetes, in which the body makes insulin, but doesn’t recognize it, several classes of medications that work in different ways can be effective. By combining different medications, you may be able to take lower doses of each, reducing the potential for serious side effects. At least one or two new medications for diabetes are introduced each year and the expanded choices help deliver better long-term disease management.
The first line of defense is generally metformin, which is sold under several brand names, including Glucophage. The drug, which has been on the market for several years, works to control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes. Glyburide, whose brand names include DiaBeta, helps to lower blood sugar by stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin and use it better.
Newer drugs include:
- Exenatide (brand name Byetta), an injectable medication that helps with weight loss and blood sugar control
- Sitagliptin (brand name Januvia), a pill that works only when you eat, eliminating the side effects of some medications that lower blood sugar indiscriminately, and can make you shaky if you haven’t eaten
- Canagliflozin (brand name Invokana), which removes sugar from the body through urine, although the drug has side effects such as urinary infections due to the high sugar content in the urine
- Some people with diabetes still require insulin pumps, but these devices have come a long way. Today’s pump is a small unit worn on the belt and includes a small catheter; it can be programmed to inject the correct amount of insulin.
Gastric bypass surgery, once a treatment of last resort, is now on the front lines for obese, type 2 diabetes patients who also suffer from other ailments, such as high blood pressure.
Diabetes by the numbers
Type 1 diabetes
In this form of the disease, the body produces no insulin, a hormone necessary for converting sugar, starches and other food into energy in the body. Formerly known as juvenile diabetes, it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes
The body produces insulin, but doesn’t use it properly in type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. Initially, the pancreas makes extra insulin, but eventually, it can’t keep up and blood glucose exceeds normal levels.
Source: American Diabetes Association