There is no cure for diabetes so treatment focuses on keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible to minimise the risk of future health problems.
Treatment will depend on the type and severity of the condition but may involve lifestyle changes and medication. Following a diagnosis your GP will advise you of your treatment options and explain how you can access specialist diabetes support in your area.
Treating Type 1 diabetes
If you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes you will need to use insulin injections because your body is unable to produce insulin naturally. Insulin regulates blood-sugar levels. Without it, blood glucose rises too high putting us at risk of organ damage.
People with type 1 diabetes need to monitor their blood-glucose levels frequently, regulate their diet and inject insulin (or use an implanted insulin infusion pump) to boost insulin levels in order to stablilise the amount of glucose in their blood.
Insulin comes in various preparations and needs to be injected because in tablet form it would get broken down in the stomach before it could work. Insulin is given either using a syringe or injection pen. Your diabetes nurse can teach you (and also a close relative) how to inject, how to dispose of needles and store insulin and explain when and how often you need to inject - for most people this will be between two to four times a day.
Occasionally a person may inject too much insulin and become hypoglycemic (whereby glucose levels fall too much) leaving them light-headed. If your blood sugar levels are low you should raise them by drinking fruit juice, cola or lemonade, taking glucose tablets or eating sweets. In extreme cases, where blood glucose falls too much you can suffer insulin shock and go into a coma. In emergency situations trained family members can inject glucagon.
Treating Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is initially treated with lifestyle changes. Your diabetes care team will recommend that you exercise regularly, eat healthily and, if need be, lose weight. This should help your regulate your blood glucose levels.
Overtime though, diabetes 2 can worsen and you may require medication to reduce your blood glucose levels. This is usually given in tablet form. A common treatment is metformin. There are a number of other medications too most of which work by increasing insulin production, by making the body’s cells more responsive to insulin or by reducing the amount of glucose that gets released into the bloodstream.
Most recently the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended the use of a new drug for some people with Type 2 diabetes, called dapagliflozin (also known as Forxiga), in combination with metformin. This acts to lower blood glucose levels.
If the condition worsens, insulin may be required. Insulin is given either using a syringe or injection pen. Your diabetes nurse can teach you how to do this.
Other treatments may also be used to control blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. These treatments, together with a healthy lifestyle will help protect against long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and major arteries.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
Some studies have suggested cinnamon may improve blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes UK calls the findings ‘interesting’ but says more research is needed.
A healthy diet is important for anyone with diabetes (particularly as type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity). A balanced diet should include at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables per day, fibres such as wholegrain bread and rice, some milk and dairy products, some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein and should be low in fat, sugar and salt.
Because diabetes can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease it is recommended to eat oily fish at least twice a week. Oily fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel, is known to be protective against cardiovascular disease.
Keeping active is an important way of maintaining good health. Adults should aim for 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. Diabetes UK recommends taking at least 10,000 steps a day - which you can log using a pedometer.