Treatment for Diabetes? Benefits and Side Effects?

Medically reviewed by Nikhil Kapoor, BS Pharm
Fact checked by Victor Cheung

As one of the most commonly diagnosed and incurable diseases, diabetes mellitus remains serious, life-altering, and sometimes even fatal. But despite having no cure, many treatment options are available to manage the condition and alleviate the symptoms.1–3

In this article, we’ll go through the currently available treatment options for diabetes mellitus — think of it as your treatment guide! Nevertheless, you should always consult your doctor before trying anything to avoid any unwanted complications.4–6

First Steps to Treating Diabetes

Treating diabetes depends mainly on which type of diabetes you have, and the severity of your condition. While many patients require taking medications, others only need some lifestyle changes and exercise.

So, it’s very important to get a conclusive diagnosis from your doctor so that they can best decide on the most suitable treatment option for you.

What Are the Available Treatment Options for Diabetes?

Treatment for type 1 diabetes will always be insulin, but for type 2 diabetes this is not always the case. There are many options for patients with type 2 diabetes and they range from mild to severe conditions.

One thing to keep in mind though is that diabetes is a lifelong condition, which means that you may change your medication from time to time with good management, treatment response, and new scientific breakthroughs. As the American Diabetes Association, puts it “It’s common for your medication needs to change over time. And that’s a good thing. The most important thing is to get to feeling your best.”7

Injectable Treatment for Diabetes Mellitus — Insulin

Even though insulin has previously been a kind of ‘last resort’ treatment option for diabetic patients, nowadays, it may be prescribed as a second line of treatment when a patient doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes. 8

There are many types of insulin, and they differ depending on how fast they act and how long they last, these include the following:9

  1. Long-acting: works within 2 hours and lasts about a day
  2. Short-acting: works within 30 minutes and lasts about 3-6 hours
  3. Intermediate-acting: works within 2-4 hours and lasts about 12-18 hours
  4. Rapid-acting: works within 15 minutes and lasts about 2-4 hours
  5. Ultra-acting: starts working after 6 hours and lasts more than a day and a half

These types are especially useful for patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus because their bodies lack insulin completely, so they need more specific control in their day-to-day life.

There are many ways you can take your insulin; these include the following:

  • Needle and Syringe
  • Pen
  • Pump
  • Jet injector

And even though, injections are among other methods of taking insulin. There is also another less invasive method to get insulin — getting insulin through the nose ‘intranasal’ administration. A study published in the Journal of Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism, in 2018, that taking insulin through the nose may cause nose irritation which is unsafe for long-term use.

Side Effects of Insulin

Side effects of insulin on diabetics are typically rare and they mostly involve allergic reactions or infections from the injection site.10 So, you should always be on the lookout for any of these warning signs: 11

  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Redness or swelling at the site of injection
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Blurry vision
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Risk of low blood sugar, high triglycerides, and ketoacidosis

If you experience any of these side effects, please consult your doctor or go to a hospital immediately.

Oral Medications for Diabetes

Aside from insulin, there are several medications that your doctor may prescribe to control and manage your blood glucose levels. These can include drugs that:12–15

  • Stimulate your pancreas to increase the production of insulin
  • Inhibits the production of glucose from the liver
  • Blocking the action of intestinal enzymes that break carbohydrates
  • Preventing reabsorption of sugar via the kidneys

Metformin is the most commonly prescribed oral medication for patients with diabetes and is sold under different brand names. It has the advantage of being in a pill form so it’s less invasive than injections and easier to consume than insulin.

That being said, your doctor will prescribe the class of medication most suitable for you.16–20

Side Effects of Metformin

The side effects of metformin include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Metallic taste
  • Low blood sugar

Other serious side effects that need immediate medical attention include the following:21

  • Allergic reaction
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Irregular breathing (too fast or too slow)
  • Feeling cold
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Skin discoloration (brown or black color)
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin

Artificial Pancreas

This type of treatment is specifically for patients with type 1 diabetes where it utilizes a system that mimics the role of the pancreas in a healthy person —monitoring blood glucose levels and secreting insulin when it’s needed.22–24

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, best explains it “An artificial pancreas is a system of three devices that work together to mimic how a healthy pancreas controls blood glucose in the body. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) tracks blood glucose levels every few minutes using a small sensor inserted under the skin that is held in place with an adhesive pad. The CGM wirelessly sends the information to a program on a smartphone or an insulin infusion pump. The program calculates how much insulin you need. The insulin infusion pump will adjust how much insulin is given from minute to minute to help keep your blood glucose level in your target range.”25

This technology is considered revolutionary as it significantly improved the quality of life of many patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Managing Diabetes Mellitus — Everyday Practices

Whether your doctor prescribes medication or not, if you’re diagnosed with diabetes (type 1,2, gestational) or prediabetes, you should alternate your lifestyle to be healthier. Eating healthy and exercising are also a part of your treatment plan so that you can avoid any life-threatening complications and improve your quality of life.26–28

A study published in the Journal of Applied Nursing Research, in 2014, proved the importance of reducing stress, exercising regularly, and eating healthily in women with gestational diabetes. The authors wrote “Mindfulness eating, and yoga exercise had health benefits on glycemic control in pregnant women with GDM. It should be recommended in clinical and community health services.”29

Below are some everyday practices that you can work on with your doctor, and nutritionist to best manage your condition:

  • Manage your stress
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthily
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Avoid smoking
  • Control your cholesterol level
  • Follow up with your doctor regularly
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels regularly
  • Take care of your teeth and hygiene

Conclusion

If left untreated, diabetes can cause severe complications that may be life-threatening. Even though there isn’t any cure for diabetes yet, there are various treatment options available to control blood sugar levels and manage the condition.

Eating healthily and regular exercise can make all the difference in improving a patient’s life.

References

References

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4.          Schmid V, Kullmann S, Gfrörer W, Hund V, Hallschmid M, Lipp HP, et al. Safety of intranasal human insulin: A review. Diabetes Obes Metab [Internet]. 2018 Jul 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];20(7):1563–77. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dom.13279

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9.          Ahmad K. Insulin sources and types: a review of insulin in terms of its mode on diabetes mellitus. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2014 Apr 15;34(2):234–7.

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15.        Tran L, Zielinski A, Roach AH, Jende JA, Householder AM, Cole EE, et al. Pharmacologic Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. http://dx.doi.org/101177/1060028014558289 [Internet]. 2015 Feb 9 [cited 2022 Oct 30];49(5):540–56. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1060028014558289?casa_token=C1kVEhXNHpAAAAAA%3Asp1xYWRwlS07jOpwv-MOBO7Z1oi9KWBWh7JbVsNEmB6euC8eEJiliOq6FPdIadX3S7Di8ESnSAfi

16.        Pernicova I, Korbonits M. Metformin—mode of action and clinical implications for diabetes and cancer. Nature Reviews Endocrinology 2014 10:3 [Internet]. 2014 Jan 7 [cited 2022 Oct 30];10(3):143–56. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/nrendo.2013.256

17.        Foretz M, Guigas B, Viollet B. Understanding the glucoregulatory mechanisms of metformin in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nature Reviews Endocrinology 2019 15:10 [Internet]. 2019 Aug 22 [cited 2022 Oct 30];15(10):569–89. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41574-019-0242-2

18.        Sanchez-Rangel E, Inzucchi SE. Metformin: clinical use in type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia [Internet]. 2017 Sep 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];60(9):1586–93. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-017-4336-x

19.        Siavash M, Tabbakhian M, Sabzghabaee AM, Razavi N. Severity of gastrointestinal side effects of metformin tablet compared to metformin capsule in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. J Res Pharm Pract [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 30];6(2):73. Available from: https://www.jrpp.net/article.asp?issn=2319-9644;year=2017;volume=6;issue=2;spage=73;epage=76;aulast=Siavash

20.        Thomas I, Gregg B. Metformin; a review of its history and future: from lilac to longevity. Pediatr Diabetes [Internet]. 2017 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];18(1):10–6. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/pedi.12473

21.        Side effects of metformin – NHS [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 30]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/metformin/side-effects-of-metformin/

22.        Cobelli C, Renard E, Kovatchev B. Artificial Pancreas: Past, Present, Future. Diabetes [Internet]. 2011 Nov 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];60(11):2672–82. Available from: https://diabetesjournals.org/diabetes/article/60/11/2672/33485/Artificial-Pancreas-Past-Present-Future

23.        Peyser T, Dassau E, Breton M, Skyler JS. The artificial pancreas: current status and future prospects in the management of diabetes. Ann N Y Acad Sci [Internet]. 2014 Apr 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];1311(1):102–23. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nyas.12431

24.        Thabit H, Hovorka R. Coming of age: the artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetes. Diabetologia [Internet]. 2016 Sep 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];59(9):1795–805. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-016-4022-4

25.        National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 30]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/

26.        Parr EB, Heilbronn LK, Hawley JA. A Time to Eat and a Time to Exercise. Exerc Sport Sci Rev [Internet]. 2020 Jan 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];48(1):4. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6948807/

27.        Alharbi M, Gallagher R, Kirkness A, Sibbritt D, Tofler G. Long-term outcomes from Healthy Eating and Exercise Lifestyle Program for overweight people with heart disease and diabetes. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing [Internet]. 2016 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Oct 30];15(1):91–9. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/eurjcn/article/15/1/91/5932438

28.        Non-adherence to diet and exercise recommendations amongst patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus attending Extension II Clinic in Botswana : original research | African Journal of Primary Health Care and Family Medicine [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 30]. Available from: https://journals.co.za/doi/abs/10.10520/EJC136758 29.          Youngwanichsetha S, Phumdoung S, Ingkathawornwong T. The effects of mindfulness eating and yoga exercise on blood sugar levels of pregnant women with gestational diabetes mellitus. Applied Nursing Research. 2014 Nov 1;27(4):227–30.

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