Get the Most Value From Your Diabetes Medicines
Learn how to work with your medicines to get the best care.
WebMD News Archive
With some medicines, you can just swallow the pill and let it do its work. Diabetes medicines require a little effort on your part to get the full benefits.
Doctors urge people with diabetes to control their blood sugar as tightly as possible. Good control can greatly reduce the risk of having complications of the disease. "You take away complications, you take away the sting of diabetes," James Gavin, MD, chairman of the National Diabetes Education Program, tells WebMD.
Diabetes complications are not to be taken lightly. People with diabetes are at least twice as likely to die from a heart attack or stroke as others are. Diabetes can also lead to kidney failure, blindness, and amputation. Other complications include pain or numbness in the legs and feet, impotence, digestive problems, and gum disease.
For those with type 1 diabetes, controlling blood sugar means taking insulin several times a day. Those with type 2, who make up the vast majority of people who have the disease, often take one or more diabetes medicines, sometimes with insulin, too.
Exercise + Diabetes Medicine = Better Control
No matter what you take, a healthy lifestyle should be the cornerstone of your treatment. Diabetes medicines are designed to work together with a good diet and regular exercise. "Every medication that has been approved for diabetes is approved first and foremost as an adjunct to diet and exercise," Gavin says.
If you're sedentary and not eating right, "You're working against a self-imposed gradient of difficulty," he says.
In type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels are high because the body lacks sensitivity to insulin, which transports sugars from the bloodstream into cells. "There is no better way to sensitize the body to insulin than exercise and weight loss," Paul Jellinger, MD, president of the American College of Endocrinology, tells WebMD.
Just how much and what kind of exercise you should do depends on your unique circumstances, but Jellinger says, "It has to be a substantive program -- not just a casual walk."
Typically that means 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week, if not every day.
Some people with type 2 diabetes may be able to control their blood sugar levels by lifestyle changes alone, to a point where they may be able to stop taking diabetes medicines. Others may be able to lower the dosage of the diabetes medicines they take.
Nevertheless, Jellinger says, "There are patients who do all the right things and still require many medicines."
Healthy living is essential for everyone with diabetes, but the benefits are most obvious in people who have been diagnosed early in the course of the disease. "Timing is everything," Gavin says.
Consistently monitoring your blood sugar also helps you get the most from your diabetes medicines. It is especially important when you are changing your diabetes medicines or trying to get down to your goal.