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Diabetes Medicines

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods you eat. The cells of your body need glucose for energy. A hormone called insulin helps the glucose get into your cells.

With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make insulin. With type 2 diabetes,your body does not make or use insulin well. Without enough insulin, glucose can't get into your cells as quickly as usual. The glucose builds up in your blood and causes high blood sugar levels.

What are the treatments for diabetes?

Treatments for diabetes can depend on the type. Common treatments include a diabetic meal plan, regular physical activity, and medicines. Some less common treatments are weight loss surgery for either type and an artificial pancreas or pancreatic islet transplantation for some people with type 1 diabetes.

Who needs diabetes medicines?

People with type 1 diabetes need to take a diabetes medicine called insulin to control their blood sugar.

Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar with healthy food choices and physical activity. But for others, a diabetic meal plan and physical activity are not enough. They need to take diabetes medicines.

The kind of medicine you take depends on your type of diabetes, daily schedule, medicine costs, and any other health conditions that you have. Over time, you may need to take more than one diabetes medicine.

What are the types of medicines for type 1 diabetes?

If you have type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin because your body no longer makes it. There are different types of insulin that start to work at different speeds, and the effects of each last a different length of time. Your health care provider will measure your blood glucose to decide on the type of insulin. You may need to use more than one type.

You will also need to check your blood sugar at home. Your provider will tell you how often. The results of your blood sugar testing can help you make decisions about food, physical activity, and medicines.

You can take insulin several different ways. The most common are with a needle and syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. If you use a needle and syringe or a pen, you have to take insulin several times during the day, including with meals. An insulin pump gives you small, steady doses throughout the day. Less common ways to take insulin include inhalers, injection ports, and jet injectors.

In rare cases, taking insulin alone might not be enough to manage your blood sugar. Then you would need to take another diabetes medicine.

What are the types of medicines for type 2 diabetes?

There are several different medicines for type 2 diabetes. Each works in a different way. Many of them are pills. There are also medicines that you inject under your skin, such as insulin.

Over time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to manage your blood sugar. You might add another diabetes medicine or switch to a combination medicine. A combination medicine contains more than one type of diabetes medicine in the same pill. Some people with type 2 diabetes take both pills and injections.

Even if you don't usually take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital.

What else should I know about taking medicines for diabetes?

Even if you take medicines for diabetes, you still need to eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, take your other medicines, and get regular physical activity. These will help you manage your diabetes.

It is important to make sure that you understand your diabetes treatment plan. Talk to your provider about:

  • What your target blood sugar level is
  • What to do if your blood sugar gets too low or too high
  • Whether your diabetes medicines will affect other medicines you take
  • If you will have any side effects from the diabetes medicines

You should not change or stop your diabetes medicines on your own. Talk to your provider first.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Start Here

  • Diabetes Medications (American Heart Association)
  • Insulin Basics (American Diabetes Association)
  • Insulin Therapy (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
  • Insulin, Medicines, and Other Diabetes Treatments From the National Institutes of Health Easy-to-Read (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) Also in Spanish
  • Taking Medication (Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists)
  • Women and Diabetes -- Diabetes Medicines (Food and Drug Administration)

Related Issues

  • Best Way to Get Rid of Used Needles and Other Sharps (Food and Drug Administration)
  • Beware of Illegally Marketed Diabetes Treatments (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
  • GLP-1 Agonists: Diabetes Drugs and Weight Loss (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Insulin and Weight Gain: Keep the Pounds Off (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Insulin Pumps: Relief and Choice (American Diabetes Association)
  • Managing Your Medicines (American Diabetes Association) - PDF


  • Diabetes Treatments (Endocrine Society)
  • Insulin Easy-to-Read (Food and Drug Administration)
  • Oral Medication (American Diabetes Association)
  • Oral Medications: What Are My Options? (American Diabetes Association)

Statistics and Research

  • Two Diabetes Medications Don't Slow Progression of Type 2 Diabetes in Youth From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Clinical Trials

  • ClinicalTrials.gov: Hypoglycemic Agents From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • ClinicalTrials.gov: Insulin From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

  • Article: Effects of a School-Based Nutrition, Gardening, and Cooking Intervention on Metabolic...
  • Article: Flexible treatment of gestational diabetes mellitus adjusted according to intrauterine fetal...
  • Article: The efficacy and safety of GP40081 (insulin aspart biphasic 30) compared...
  • Diabetes Medicines -- see more articles

Find an Expert

  • American Diabetes Association
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases From the National Institutes of Health
  • NIDDK Information Clearinghouses and Health Information Center From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)


  • Women and Diabetes Video (Food and Drug Administration)

Patient Handouts

The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.