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Managing Diabetes: Common Medications and How They Work

Diabetes is an ongoing health problem that affects many people all around the world. Taking care of your health is essential for feeling good and maintaining overall well-being.  Medications play a key role in helping people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.  

Common Diabetes Medications 

1. Metformin. Often the first medication health care providers give to people with Type 2 diabetes. It works by lowering the amount of glucose produced in the liver.

2. Sulfonylureas (glipizide, glimepiride, glyburide). These medications stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin.

3. Meglitinides (Prandin, Starlix). Similar to sulfonylureas, they help the pancreas to release more insulin.

4. Thiazolidinediones (TZDs) (Avandia, Actos). These medications can help our muscles and fat tissues use insulin better.

5. Dipeptidyl Peptidase-4(DPP-4) Inhibitors (Januvia, Onglyza, Tradjenta). DPP-4 inhibitors prevent the breakdown of GLP-1, a compound in the body that lowers blood glucose levels.

6. SGLT2 Inhibitors (Invokana, Farxiga, Jardiance). These medications block glucose from being reabsorbed by the kidneys.  Excess glucose is released into the urine. 

7. GLP-1 Receptor Agonists (Victoza, Trulicity, Ozempic, Mounjaro, Rybelsus). Help the body to release insulin when blood glucose is high and lower the amount of glucose produced by the liver.

8. Insulin. Insulin is a crucial medication for many individuals with diabetes, particularly those with Type 1 diabetes. Insulin allows glucose to enter most body cells which in turn lowers the amount of glucose in the blood. There are different types of insulin available, such as rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting.

Adjusting Your Diabetes Medication(s) 

Your doctor may make changes to your treatment regimen for a variety of reasons, all aimed at achieving and maintaining good blood sugar control.  Here are common situations when a doctor might consider adjusting medications: 

1. Inadequate Blood Sugar Control. Monitoring blood sugar levels is a crucial aspect of managing diabetes. If blood sugar levels consistently remain above target, despite adhering to prescribed regimens, your provider may need to make adjustments. This often involves adding new medications, increasing the dose of current medications, or changing to a different class of medications.

2. Lifestyle Changes. Changes in diet, exercise, or physical activity can impact blood sugar levels. If you make significant changes to your lifestyle, inform your doctor so they can adjust your medication(s) accordingly.

3. Weight Changes. Some diabetes medications can lead to weight gain, while others may promote weight loss. Depending on your weight management goals, your doctor may consider adjusting your medications to align with your desired outcomes.

4. Illness and Stress. Illness, infections, and high-stress situations can affect blood sugar levels. When this happens, your doctor may recommend temporary medication adjustments.

5. Side Effects. While it is important to keep blood sugar levels in check, it is equally important to ensure that the medications used are well-tolerated and do not cause discomfort or harm. If you experience intolerable side effects from your diabetes medications, report them promptly to your provider so that adjustments can be made if necessary. Pharmacists can also provide medication counseling and address concerns related to medication interactions.

Managing diabetes is a team effort that involves collaboration between you and your doctor. Medications can be a valuable tool in diabetes management, but it is also important to eat healthy, exercise, and regularly communicate with your healthcare team. 

Author: Ellie Zaragoza RN, CDCES | CCS Health  

This site is for educational purposes only. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before making any decisions about your health.