Diabetes Medications Overview

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Diabetes Medications
Diabetes mellitus has become a prevalent disease affecting millions of people around the world.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million people in the U.S. were reported to have diabetes in 2012, and that number rises every year.


Fortunately, the disease is treatable with medications. If you or someone you know has the condition, it’s important to know what diabetes medications are available and when should be used for treatment.

Diabetes is broken down into two types. Type 1 can be genetic and typically affects infants and children, which has earned it the nickname juvenile diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This means the pancreas is unable to make its own insulin. Type 1 is treated with injectable insulin or an insulin pump.

Type 2 diabetes can develop at any time, and it is usually the result of poor diet and obesity. It mainly affects adults over 40, but recent studies have shown that the population of children with the disease is growing rapidly. Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with oral medications, injectable medications or insulin injections.

Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, or even if you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, the best action to take is to consult with your doctor. He or she will be able to determine the most effective treatment plan for you.

Oral Diabetic Medications1

Type 2 diabetes is the result of insulin resistance. The body can no longer use its own insulin effectively, which elevates blood sugar levels. This can be the result of genetics, or more often, a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars. A diet like this keeps insulin levels high for long periods of time. While the first line of treatment is to try to manage type 2 diabetes by making changes in diet and exercise, oftentimes, medication is necessary.

There are a wide variety of oral medications available for those with type 2 diabetes. These medications are broken down into several classes including:

  • Biguanides –These are most commonly prescribed diabetic medications for type 2. They decrease the amount of glucose produced by the liver and increase insulin sensitivity. These drugs also lower the amount of glucose absorbed by the intestines.
  • Sulfonylureas –This class of drugs stimulates pancreatic islet cells, causing them to release insulin.
  • Thiazolidinediones – Increase insulin sensitivity.
  • DPP-4 Inhibitors – In people without diabetes, the hormone incretin stimulates the release of insulin to lower blood sugar after you eat. An enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) then removes the hormone. Some people with type 2 diabetes don’t make enough incretin. These drugs help the body inhibit DPP-4 from removing it, allowing it to stay in the body longer to reduce blood sugar.
  • SGLT2 Inhibitors – These types of drugs help the kidneys to remove excess glucose from the bloodstream through urine.
  • Rapid Insulin Releasers – These drugs enhance the release of insulin from the pancreas during short periods when glucose levels are high. This mimics the first phase insulin release of people without diabetes when food is eaten.

All of these drugs are prescribed under brand names, and each may carry its own side effects and /or risks. As with all medications, it is best to consult with your physician to weigh the pros and cons.

Insulin Treatment

Some people who have type 2 and all people with type 1 diabetes are treated with insulin. It is usually injected using a needle and syringe through the skin into the fatty tissue.

There are a number of methods to do this:

  • Insulin pens that use a cartridge pre-filled with insulin
  • Jet injections which actually spray insulin through the skin using high pressure air
  • Pumps which dispense insulin through a catheter under the skin in the stomach area through a flexible tube

Non-Insulin injectable drugs are similar to insulin. A class of drugs called incretin mimetics, they allow insulin to work more effectively to lower blood sugar. They may also help with weight loss.

Monitoring and Testing

Because insulin is injected directly into the body, blood sugar levels have to be monitored closely with type 1 and insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes. Some patients have to adjust the amount of insulin taken on a daily basis depending on their blood sugar levels.

For both types of diabetes, having regular blood work performed by an endocrinologist is very important. Along with daily blood sugar testing, a test called a glycated hemoglobin test (better known as HbA1c) can be done. This test shows how well your blood sugar has been controlled by your current medication in the past three months and is an excellent indicator of your risk of complications from diabetes.

Monitoring your condition and treatments closely with a qualified physician is the best way to live a healthy life and reduce your risk of having complications from your diabetes. Always ask questions and discuss your concerns with your physician at every visit.

Want to know more? Find helpful information by visiting our “Treatment” section.


1Schoenstadt, Arthur. List of Diabetic Medication. http://diabetes.emedtv.com/diabetes/list-of-diabetic-medication.html. [accessed January 26, 2015].