You've been working hard on your diet, you've started to exercise and lose weight, but sometimes your blood sugar can still be higher than your doctor wants it to be. Maybe you've only just started to work on lifestyle changes. You are making progress but you may need medication to get your numbers in the safest range. Your doctor will use the results of your hemoglobin A1c test and your own blood sugar tests from home to determine whether to start medicine or insulin.

If you need diabetes pills or insulin, it does not mean that you are a failure or have wasted your efforts to eat right and exercise. With the proper diet and physical activity, you will need less medication to do the job. And medication alone is NOT adequate without proper diet and exercise. Remember that good control of your blood sugars is the goal for you to focus on with your doctor and health care team.

Taking diabetes pills can improve your blood sugar results. These pills are NOT insulin. There are 4 types of diabetes pills. Each type lowers your blood sugar in different ways. If you need to take medication, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the details of your specific drug. For example, get instructions about what time of day to take your medicine and whether you need to take the drug with food or not. Taking your medicine at the same time each day will give you the best and most consistent results.

Sulfonylureas and meglitinides

Examples are glyburide, glipizide, glimepiride and repaglinide. These drugs:

  • Help your pancreas make extra insulin
  • Are usually well-tolerated and safe
  • Can cause low blood sugar
  • Can cause weight gain
  • Have peaks and valleys -- you may need to snack at the peak


An example is metformin. This medication:

  • Stops the liver from making extra sugar when it is not needed
  • Does not cause your body to make more insulin
  • Rarely causes low blood sugar
  • Must be taken with food
  • Can help with weight control

Thiazolidinediones (TZDs)

Examples are pioglitazone and rosiglitazone. These drugs:

  • Help your body use its own insulin better
  • Can cause swelling from water retention

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors

Examples are acarbose and miglitol. These drugs:

  • Slow the digestion of starches in your blood
  • Cause your blood sugar to rise more slowly
  • Can cause stomach discomfort

Insulin injections

Most people want to avoid taking insulin to control their diabetes. However, your doctor might decide to add insulin to your treatment if your hemoglobin A1c is too high. Pills work for a period of time, but with type 2 diabetes, your pancreas may eventually get tired of making insulin. If this happens, you need to help it by giving yourself insulin shots. Approximately 40% of people with type 2 diabetes will ultimately require insulin injections.

Here are the types of insulin based on how fast they work.

Insulin Type Begins working in... Duration
Quick acting 5 to 15 minutes 3 to 5 hours
Short acting 30 to 60 minutes 6 to 8 hours
Intermediate acting 30 minutes to 3 hours 10 to 16 hours
Long acting 4 to 6 hours 24 to 36 hours
Combination mixture 30 minutes 16 to 24 hours

Your insulin treatment plan

Taking insulin is more complex than taking pills. At first, you may feel overwhelmed by the process or all the different information. Your doctor or diabetes educator (generally a nurse or a registered dietitian) will teach you the skills you need. It is important for you to actively participate in planning your treatment. Some of the topics that you will learn about are:

  • How to avoid low blood sugars
  • When to give the injections
  • How to prepare the needle
  • How and where to inject the insulin
  • How to store insulin
  • How often you will need to take insulin
  • How fast the insulin you take works
  • How long your insulin lasts in your body
  • How exercise affects your insulin dose
  • How to plan your meals and snacks
  • What to do if you are ill
  • Travel and vacation strategies
  • Insulin pens and pumps

Insulin is a way of taking better care of yourself. Remember that with better blood sugar control you will feel better, cut your risk of diabetes complications, and improve the quality of your life.


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Review Date: 5/1/2006

Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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