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Diabetes Meds: What You Should Know

There are many options for managing blood sugar. Work with your doctor to find the best one for you.

man reviewing two medication bottles

The goal in managing diabetes is to keep blood sugar within a target range as determined by your doctor and based on the recommendations developed by diabetes experts. Managing your diabetes involves balancing your diet, physical activity and medication. If your treatment plan includes medication, your doctor will work with you to decide which drug or drugs would be best for you. Here is an overview of some diabetes medications:

Type 2 Diabetes

Oral Medications

The American Diabetes Association recommends that most people with type 2 diabetes first try a drug called metformin — provided the person can tolerate it. Metformin causes the liver to make less glucose and therefore release less glucose into the blood. It also helps cells in your muscles use insulin to absorb sugar.

But if changing your lifestyle habits and metformin aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe another drug or drugs. The classes of diabetes drugs work differently, so they are generally safe to use together. Some of these drugs are prescribed as a combination pill. Or you may take two different pills. The drugs work differently:

  • Some help the body make more insulin.
  • Some help the body use insulin better.
  • Some help your body make more insulin as needed, such as after eating. They also help keep the liver from putting stored sugar in your blood.
  • Some block the kidneys from absorbing sugars.
  • Some help the body make more insulin, less of a hormone that counteracts insulin. They also reduce appetite and slow the emptying of the stomach.


For people with type 2 diabetes, oral medication may not be enough to manage blood sugar. Over time, pills may stop working. Your doctor may then prescribe insulin, alone or in addition to diabetes pills. Some people with type 2 diabetes may need insulin therapy when they begin their treatment. Others may need insulin at some point in their diabetes management.

Non-Insulin Injectables

Another type of medication that is given by injection helps people with type 2 diabetes  produce more insulin when blood sugar levels are high and may be prescribed in addition to oral medications.

As with all drugs, these medications can have side effects. Be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for people with type 1 diabetes. However, in some cases, treatment may also include a non-insulin injectable such as pramlinitide.


Insulin is necessary for people with type 1 diabetes. Insulin is injected into fat under the skin through a syringe, pump or infuser. Depending on the type of insulin, you may need to inject it several times a day. Insulin may come premixed and include slow- and fast-acting types.  Insulin differs in how fast it works, how long it lasts, and when it peaks in effectiveness. Doses also vary.

Injected non-insulin medications

Your doctor may prescribe this type of medication if you use insulin but can’t reach target blood sugar levels. This type is typically injected at mealtime. One helps slow the movement of food through your stomach. It also tells the liver not to release stored sugar.

Inhaled Insulin

An inhaled insulin has recently become available. It's a dry powder that's administered with a small, easily portable inhaler. This rapid-acting insulin is a treatment option for those needing insulin at meal time. The inhaled insulin is used in combination with regular insulin for people with type 1 diabetes, but may not be for all.

As with all drugs, these medications can have side effects. Be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Talk to your doctor

It may take a few tries, but with so many options, your doctor should be able to find a medication plan that works for you and fits your lifestyle. It’s important to discuss your options with your doctor. Be sure to share any questions or concerns. Here are some things to consider if you’re starting a new medicine:

  • How often and when will I need to take my medicine?
  • What do I do if I forget to take my medicine?
  • What are the side effects?
  • What should I do if I have side effects?
  • Will this drug interact with other drugs I’m taking?

A note about pregnancy

If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, check with your doctor. Pre-pregnancy planning is important to reduce risk of serious complications. Recommendations by your doctor may include lifestyle changes and medications. Your doctor will take into consideration if you have type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes–2015. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. What I need to know about diabetes: Medicines. Accessed: January 23, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Basics. Accessed: January 23, 2015.

Last Updated: February 18, 2015