How is type 1 diabetes treated?

People with type 1 diabetes must be treated with insulin injections to supplement the failing insulin production of their pancreas. Insulin is injected with a syringe or pen injector, or through an infusion device called an insulin pump.

There are also adjunct, or companion, treatments for type 1 diabetes that may be prescribed along with insulin. The injectable hormone pramlintide (Symlin) is taken with mealtime insulin to help avoid after-meal blood sugar spikes. In clinical studies, metformin, an oral medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, has shown some promise as an adjunct therapy for type 1 diabetes as well, although this is considered an "off label" use of the drug.

Good nutrition, particularly careful monitoring of carbohydrate intake, and regular physical activity are also important "treatments" for controlling type 1 diabetes and preventing long-term complications. Regular blood sugar testing can help you monitor how your treatment routine is working.

Type 1 diabetes is treated with insulin. With type 1 diabetes, the body cannot make insulin, so people have to take replacement insulin every day, either by injections or with an insulin pump. Injections can be given via an insulin pen. On one end of the pen is a very small, thin needle, which goes just under the skin. It might hurt a tiny bit for a very short amount of time. The replacement insulin acts just like insulin made in the body, allowing glucose into cells where the body can use it for fuel.

The second option is an insulin pump. This is a device that has a cannula, which is a small, thin tube that sits just under the skin. The pump allows a little amount of insulin to go into the body all the time. When people need extra insulin, all they have to do is press a button. A glucose meter helps keep track of how much glucose is in the blood. 

Gary Scheiner

Treatment for type 1 diabetes begins with insulin, administered below the skin via injections or a mechanical pump. However, the individual with diabetes must learn to carefully match insulin doses to factors that influence glucose levels, including food intake, physical activity, stress/emotions, and changes in hormone levels. This is achieved through blood glucose monitoring, record keeping and analysis. 

The two goals of type 1 diabetes treatment are to make sure you feel well day-to-day and to prevent or delay long-term health problems, also called complications. The best way to reach those goals is by:

  • taking insulin
  • planning your meals—choosing what, how much, and when to eat
  • being physically active

Treating diabetes involves more than just managing blood glucose. It also includes treating blood pressure and cholesterol.

Treatment options for diabetes vary, depending on the type of diabetes involved. However, the four primary factors in any diabetes treatment are weight management, a healthy diet, exercise, and blood glucose monitoring. Everyone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes will need to take some form of insulin. But, if you have been diagnosed with other types of diabetes, you will only need to take medications such as insulin if diet and exercise are insufficient.

If you manage your diabetes effectively, you can have a long, healthy life. The primary goal of diabetes treatment is to stabilize blood glucose levels. The better your blood glucose is managed, the more positive your treatment outcomes.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that currently has no cure. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin into their body daily and are therefore considered to be insulin-dependent.

Dr. Matthew J. Freeby, MD

The treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin. At this time, oral medications used in type 2 diabetes do not work and are not currently approved for patients with type 1. Patients with type 1 diabetes typically have two insulin treatment options. One option is insulin pump therapy. There are multiple insulin pumps out on the market. A second option is to give multiple daily injections of long- and short-acting insulin. There are multiple long- and short-acting insulins out on the market. The decision to use multiple daily insulin injections or pump therapy is typically made after discussion with a doctor.

More recently, continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGM) have also been shown to be vitally important for patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus. Research has shown that monitoring glucose consistently and frequently improves glycemic control and reduces the risk of significant hypoglycemia. CGM offers patients glucose readings every five minutes. This constant feed of information can be sent to a medical device or a phone.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition; and while there are treatments for diabetes, researchers don't know what causes the immune system to attack the pancreas. In this video, Steven Edelman, MD, director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, explains where the research is focused.

There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. In this video, Ronald Tamler, MD, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center, discusses the diabetic honeymoon that sometimes follows diagnoses.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.