Taking Common Medications

Taking medications is necessary for most type 1 and type2 diabetics to manage their disease. But, if you have just been diagnosed with diabetes, the maze of common diabetic medications can be overwhelming and confusing.

Constant research is always leading to new methods of controlling diabetes. Medications can lead to improved therapy and better quality of life for type1 and type2 diabetics.  Your doctor and diabetic health team will help you determine which medicines you need to help control your diabetes. You may need daily injections of insulin or might be able to control your disease with other types of medications. To determine your course of treatment your doctor and health team will look at your overall diabetic symptoms, your blood sugar levels, and other important factors.


Insulin is at the heart of diabetes control. Certain medications can make use of your own insulin by stimulating the pancreas to make more or improving the sensitivity of your cells to the insulin.  However, some people produce little or no insulin (type 1 diabetics) or the insulin they produce is not able to keep up with the demands of the body. In these cases, your doctor will prescribe insulin injections.

When you and your doctor discuss the possible use of insulin the following factors will be considered:

  • The length of time you have had diabetes
  • The levels of your blood glucose, especially how high your levels get throughout the day
  • Medications you currently take for diabetes and other health issues
  • Your current health

In general, pills can be used for type 2 diabetics, but play little or no role in type 1 diabetics. There are several different types of pills your doctor can prescribe. The most common pill is called Metformin, which works by increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin, while also decreasing the level of glucose produced by your liver. Both actions work well to help diabetics control their glucose levels. There are other pills that can be used to help the pancreas produce additional insulin. These pills come with the potential to cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. For some type 2 diabetics, pills are not enough to control their diabetes and they will need to add insulin injections to their regimen.

The longer you have been struggling with diabetes, the more likely it is that pills alone will be insufficient and you will need to add insulin injections as well. In addition, diabetes medications can become less effective over time. They may work well for a patient for several years and then stop working or become less effective. Your doctor will work to find other treatments when the diabetes pills no longer work.

Insulin Injections and Pumps

When it comes to taking common diabetic medicines, the insulin injection and pump method are the two most popular methods.

Insulin injections allow patients to get the amount of insulin they need immediately. If this is the type of medical self management your doctor determines is best for you then you will work with your doctor to determine what type of insulin injections you need as there are several different types of insulin injections.

All insulin injections follow three primary rules: onset, peaktime, and duration. Depending on your particular needs, your doctor will prescribe a medicine that fits your needs.

There are four common types of insulin for injections. Rapid acting peaks in an hour. Regular action peaks in two hours. Intermediate acting peaks in four to twelve hours. Long acting onsets in one to two hours and has a twenty four hour duration.

You can reuse your syringes as long as you do not share them with other people. If you plan to reuse your syringe always keep the needle clean and cap the syringe when not in use. Safely dispose of your syringes when you are through with them.

The insulin pump offers a continuous dose of insulin, with the ability to program additional insulin doses to cover the glucose spike from meals. It is attached to the patient, normally to the abdomen area. This pump is small, about the size of a small beeper, and runs on battery power.

The insulin pump is attached to the body via a tiny cannula tube and a small computer chip is programmed to offer just the right amount of insulin to the body throughout the day.

There are some great advantages to using an insulin pump. If you choose this method you no longer have to worry about daily injections. The insulin is always delivered accurately. It can help keep you from having huge blood glucose swings. Overall, most people feel the pump improves the quality of their life. Several studies show that the use of an insulin pump may improve your A1C, which is an 3 month average of your blood glucose levels.[1]

Other Medications

Diabetics often experience complications like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and skin conditions. The doctor must carefully determine if prescribed drugs to treat these diseases will interfere with blood sugar level control or impact the effect of insulin medications.

In addition, over the counter medications should be used with great caution. Before taking any common medications purchased at the local pharmacy, you should check with the pharmacist or your doctor to insure it does not contain anything that may raise or lower blood glucose levels. It’s easy to underestimate the effects of over-the-counter medications.

Herbal Supplements

Many diabetics choose to use herbal supplements to aid in keeping control of their blood glucose levels. A National Health Interview discovered that 22 percent of diabetics use some form of natural therapy or herbal supplement.[2] Another study found that 31 percent use dietary supplements.[3]

There are many dietary supplements available for diabetics. Please use caution and consult your doctor before beginning any herbal therapy.

One of the most interesting herbal supplements to garner national attention has been cinnamon. A multitude of studies have discovered that cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of type 2 diabetics.[4] Most studies agree that up to 6 grams a day of cinnamon can help control blood glucose levels.


[1] Peter Chase, B. H. (2006). The USe of Insulin Pumps with Meal Bolus Alarms in Children with type1 Diabetes to Improve Glycemic Control. diabetes Care , 1012-1015.

[2]  Herbs, Supplements, Alternative Medicines. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Diabetes Asociation: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/medication/herbs-supplements-and-alternative-medicines/

[3] ibid

[4] Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type 2 diabetes. (2003). Diabetes Care , 3215-3218.

This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.