How do medications treat type 2 diabetes?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you may not need to take any medication. The primary ways to manage type 2 diabetes are sticking to a proper diet and exercise program, and testing blood glucose levels regularly to make sure they're within a target range. However, you may need some medications to help stabilize your blood glucose levels and keep them within as normal a range as possible. These medications-whether pills, insulin or other medicines-help maintain sufficient insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, and is required to stabilize blood glucose levels.

Not everyone with type 2 diabetes will be helped by oral diabetes medications. Oral medications are more likely to lower blood glucose levels in people who have had high blood glucose levels for less than 10 years, who are using a healthy meal plan, and who have some insulin secretion by their pancreas. The drugs work poorly in people who are very thin.

Diabetes is progressive, even with treatment. It's not uncommon for people with type 2 diabetes to require increasing amounts of medication to keep their diabetes under control as the years go by. The most important thing is not how much medication it takes to control your diabetes, but how well you keep your diabetes under control to prevent complications.

There are many different combinations of medications used to treat type 2 diabetes, so if one medication doesn't work, people shouldn't get discouraged.

Primarily, medications are used to control blood sugar, but treatment of type 2 diabetes is not just about blood sugar control. Doctors look at overall health risks, from blood pressure to obesity, and take that all into account to figure out a medication regimen that can address many of those.

Many of the medications used today also have some other beneficial effects such as weight reduction, some may slightly improve blood pressure, and some of the newer agents also have some indications to reduce cardiovascular deaths. A person may take a medication that controls blood sugar, but also assists with weight loss as well, depending on the person's other health issues.

People who have had type 2 diabetes for a long period of time, or if their blood sugar is significantly elevated, may require insulin. Diabetes is a chronic disease where there's going to be destruction of the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Over time people with type 2 diabetes may need insulin, so a combination of pills and insulin may be used to keep the blood sugar at goal.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Metformin is the most commonly used drug to treat type 2 diabetes. In this video, Ronald Tamler, MD, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, talks about common drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes.

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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.