Care Plan: 3 Taking Medicine

Following your meal plan and staying active often are not enough to keep your blood sugar in check. Medicine is almost always necessary. If your blood sugar levels are above your recommended goal range or your A1C is higher than desired with meal planning and physical activity alone, then you might need medicine for your diabetes.

There are many types of effective medicines to treat diabetes. Diabetes medicines help the body work better to keep blood sugar levels in the right range.

Diabetes pills (OADs)

There are non-insulin diabetes medicines you can take by mouth. There are many types of diabetes pills. These pills are also called oral antidiabetic drugs, or OADs for short. Diabetes pills work best when you also follow a meal plan and get regular physical activity. They work in different ways to lower blood sugar levels.

  • Some OADs help the body release more insulin
  • Some OADs lower the amount of sugar the liver makes
  • Some OADs help insulin work better in muscle and fat
  • Some OADs slow the breakdown of food into sugar
  • Some OADs help your body make more insulin when it’s needed (after you eat, for example)
  • Some OADs help the body get rid of extra sugar through the urine

Because they work in different ways, 2 or more of these drugs may be used together.

Each of these medicines works in 1 or more of the following ways:
  • Some pills help the body release more insulin
  • Some pills reduce the amount of sugar the liver releases
  • Some pills help insulin work better in muscle and fat
  • Some medicines slow the breakdown of food into sugar
  • Some pills help the body get rid of extra sugar through the urine

Non-insulin injectable medicines

In addition to the diabetes medicines taken by mouth, there is a non-insulin medicine that is taken by using a special prefilled pen. Some may be taken once a day, twice a day, or before each meal (depending on the medicine). This medicine acts like natural GLP-1, a hormone in the body that helps control blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels go too high, this medicine helps beta cells release more insulin. The increased insulin lowers the blood sugar levels.

Another non-insulin injectable medicine works by replacing a hormone called amylin, which works along with insulin to help your body use blood sugar for energy.


Insulin was discovered in 1921 and was one of the most important medical breakthroughs in modern times.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas stop releasing insulin. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin to control blood sugar. The amount of insulin taken must be balanced with how much food they eat and how active they are. Healthy eating, physical activity, and insulin are the 3 main parts of a diabetes care plan.

In type 2 diabetes, many people find that as their beta cells stop working over time, they need to take insulin. If you have been told that you could benefit from insulin but have delayed starting it, you are not alone. Many people worry about injecting themselves. They wonder if insulin has side effects. They wonder if taking insulin will interfere with their lives.

However, people with type 2 diabetes often find that starting insulin can help them manage their diabetes.

Today, there are many insulin medicines and devices available to treat all stages of type 2 diabetes. You and your diabetes care team can work together to find the diabetes products that are right for you.

The 3 ways to get insulin into your body are to inject it with an insulin pen, syringe, or insulin pump. You can’t take insulin as a pill because the acid in your stomach would stop it from working. So insulin has to be injected.

A prefilled insulin pen looks like a writing pen. Many people like prefilled pens because they are disposable and discreet. Pen needles are often shorter and thinner than those used on syringes. Prefilled disposable pens can use fine 32G needles, which were rated in a survey by a majority of people as causing little or no pain.

Types of insulin

There are many types of insulin. They each work at a different pace to mimic the way the body normally releases insulin. They each have a different:

  • Onset of action (when they start to work)
  • Time of peak action (when their effect on blood sugar is strongest)
  • Duration of action (how long they work)

Human insulin is available in 3 types. Regular is a short-acting human insulin that is usually taken 30 minutes before a meal and lasts up to 8 hours. Intermediate-acting human insulin is taken with breakfast or supper, or at bedtime, and is effective for about 12 to 20 hours. Premixed human insulin includes both a regular insulin and an intermediate-acting insulin, and works for about 12 to 20 hours.