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Diabetes Medication Misconceptions

If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may have some questions about how the diseases are treated.

There are many misconceptions about diabetes medications, mainly because the treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be very different. One of the most pervasive myths about diabetes--both forms of it--is that the disease can be treated by simply refining your diet or exercising more. While this is certainly an option for some people with type 2 diabetes, it is absolutely untrue for people with type 1.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that occurs when the body’s disease fighting system, the immune system, destroys all your body's insulin-producing cells. Insulin is a vital agent that your body needs to convert food into energy. If your body is not producing insulin, you must take it by injection or a pump to live. Insulin currently cannot be taken by mouth because the digestive juices in your stomach and intestine will break down the insulin before it has a chance to get into your bloodstream to do its job.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may or may not have to take insulin injections, depending on a variety of factors. Contrary to popular belief, insulin injections are not for people with diabetes who have been "bad"—instead, taking insulin is a reflection of insulin production by the pancreas. People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in general are still producing some insulin, although the amount they produce is not enough for their needs. Their cells may also be resistant to the effects of insulin, which makes them require more insulin than a person who does not have diabetes. Frequently when type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, weight loss, exercise, and changes in how much you eat can bring blood glucose levels back into a normal range without the use of any medications. Exercise and weight loss are particularly helpful in decreasing insulin resistance.

Sometimes oral diabetes medications are needed to help your body use more efficiently the insulin already being produced, or to help your body produce more insulin. In the last few years, a wide variety of of oral diabetes medications have been developed that work in different ways. Sometimes various oral medications are combined in order to achieve good glucose control. If tight glucose control is achieved through oral medications and a healthy diet and regular exercise, then a person with type 2 diabetes may be able to avoid insulin injections, but you must test your glucose frequently to make sure you’re achieving the control you require for good health.

People who have had type 2 diabetes for many years may ultimately discover that despite their best efforts, the oral medications, along with diet and exercise, no longer keep their blood glucose in a healthy range. This is not unusual. One theory is that your insulin-producing cells may just be depleted from having to produce extra insulin to overcome insulin resistance for an extended period of time. At this time, insulin injections may be required to continue to keep your blood glucose in the healthy range to avoid long-term diabetes complications.

Find more information about diabetes in What You Need to Know about Diabetes – A Short Guide available from the Joslin Online Store.

Page last updated: October 20, 2014