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Treatment of Diabetes: Is it just about tablets?

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which regulates the movement of sugar into cells. Low levels of insulin result in high blood sugar levels, causing excess glucose (sugar) to spill into urine. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disorder that usually appears during childhood or adolescence, but can also develop during adulthood.

Type 2 diabetes is another chronic condition where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and the cells respond poorly to insulin, consequently taking in less sugar. Type 2 diabetes develops most commonly in people over the age of 45, and is largely diet-related.

There is no cure for either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but changes in your diet and exercise can help you manage this condition. Oral medication and/or insulin injections can also treat diabetes.

How can your diet and exercise affect diabetes?

Pie chart showing percentage for a balanced meal

Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising is a method of controlling blood sugar level, also known as “lifestyle medicine”. A healthy diet should be centered on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, or food high in nutrition and fibre, and low in fat and calories. Avoid eating foods with saturated fats, heavily-processed carbohydrates and sweets to reduce the amount of glucose present in the bloodstream.

When exercising, sugar is used in the production of energy for body movement, lowering our blood sugar level. Exercise also increases our body’s sensitivity to insulin. For patients with Type 2 diabetes, dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to exercise.

Unfortunately, for some patients with Type 2 diabetes, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising frequently is insufficient in lowering the blood sugar level. Oral medication and/or insulin injections may then be prescribed to the patient.

What are the types of anti-diabetic drugs available?

Pills that have spilled out of the bottle

Oral diabetes medication helps to control patients’ blood sugar levels. It is also effective for patients with Type 2 diabetes, as their bodies still produce some insulin. There are 9 main classes of oral antidiabetic agents – Sulfonylureas, Meglitinide, Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV (DPP-4) Inhibitor, Dopamine Agonist, Biguanide, Thiazolidinedione, Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitor, Sodium-glucose Cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) Inhibitor and Bile Acid Sequestrant (BAS). The medication may be prescribed alone, or taken together with other drugs to increase its effectiveness.

How do they work?

Table showing various types of oral diabetic medications and their descriptions Table showing various types of oral diabetic medications and their descriptions

What are some of their side effects?

Table showing the side effects of the various oral diabetic medications Table showing the side effects of the various oral diabetic medications

Did you know that insulin injections can treat diabetes too?

Insulin injections can help manage both types of diabetes, acting as a replacement for, or a supplement to, your body’s natural insulin. There are multiple types of insulin injections available, but they all serve the same purpose – to keep a person’s blood sugar levels within normal range. Insulin injections differ based on how fast they work and how long they last.

A woman injecting herself with insulin

What are the types of Insulin available?

Table showing the various types of insulin and their descriptions Table showing the various types of insulin and their descriptions

How is insulin injected?

Insulin is most commonly administered through a syringe, insulin pen, insulin pump or insulin inhaler. The type of insulin injection you use will be based on your personal preference and health needs.

Insulin is injected under the skin of many parts of the body, such as your:

  • Thighs
  • Buttocks
  • Upper arms
  • Abdomen

How can insulin be stored?

Insulin can be stored in the refrigerator (not the freezer), but must be removed and allowed to reach room temperature before injection. It can also be stored at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight.

Do note that opened vials of insulin, regardless of its storage location, must be used and discarded within 28 days.

What are some side effects of insulin injections?

Receiving insulin may lead to some side effects, such as:

  • Initial weight gain as your body cells start to take in glucose
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Rashes, bumps or swelling at the injection site – your doctor will explain the importance of changing injection sites to prevent such bumps from forming
  • Anxiety or depression
  • A cough when taking inhaled insulin

Additionally, it is completely safe for pregnant women to receive insulin injections; injections can be administered on the upper arms or thighs.

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.