Types Of Diabetes Medication: An In-Depth Guide

Types Of Diabetes Medication

The type of diabetes medication you need will depend on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Other factors that are considered are your health, lifestyle, and diabetes control.

We take a look in greater detail at the different types of medication for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes treatment

Effective diabetes treatment is holistic, supporting your physical, emotional and mental health.

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, your diabetes team should work with you to control your blood sugar, support your wellbeing and prevent diabetes complications.

Diabetes medication is a crucial part of care, but diabetes treatment involves much more than tablets and insulin injections. Lifestyle changes, careful glucose monitoring and health screening, are all integral parts of good diabetes management.

Type 2 diabetes in particular, responds well to diet and exercise. Some people with type 2 diabetes can achieve normal sugar levels and put their diabetes into remission by losing weight and staying active.

However, living and eating healthily is important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Below, we explore ways in which someone suffering from diabetes can help to keep the disease in check:


  • Live an active life: try and exercise regularly to stay fit, maintain your health and improve your diabetes control. Talk to your diabetes team about safe ways to introduce exercise if you’re worried about your fitness


  • Eat a healthy balanced diet: the recommended diet for diabetes is exactly the same as the healthy diet for everyone else. You want a balanced diet rich in fresh produce.

Choose healthy fats from nuts, seeds, fish and avocado and low GI foods like whole grains instead of sugar and processed carbohydrates. Large portions of sugar and carbohydrates will cause blood sugars to rise sharply. So, keep an eye on how much is on your plate.

Different approaches such as a Mediterranean diet or reduced carbohydrate diet can be helpful for some people; discuss this with a dietician


  • Aim to reach or maintain a healthy BMI


  • Give up smoking: smoking increases your risk of developing long term complications of diabetes


  • Monitor your blood glucose regularly: careful glucose monitoring is crucial for people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Good control can help you stay healthy and prevent diabetes complications.

Your GP or diabetes team should give you a target HbA1c and support you to achieve that goal


  • Screening: Diabetes can affect your small blood vessels, especially when it is poorly controlled. It’s essential to have regular screening sessions to check the health of your eyes, cardiovascular system, kidneys and feet

Type 1 diabetes medication

With type 1 diabetes, the body cannot produce insulin, an essential hormone. You will need replacement insulin to allow your cells to use glucose energy to fuel their function.

You can’t take insulin as a tablet because it is broken down in your stomach before it can take effect. You need to take it by injection, administered into the layer of fat under your skin. You can administer the insulin using a fine needle and insulin syringe; however, people use an insulin pen or an insulin pump more commonly.

Insulin injections for type 1 diabetes

You can inject insulin using a sleek, pen-shaped device. There are different types of insulins, which act quickly, or work over a longer period of time to control your blood sugars.

Intermediate-acting or basal insulin works throughout the day. It’s taken once or twice a day, and popular brands include Insulatard and Humulin Isophane.

Long-acting insulins like Lantus, Tresiba and Dugladuc have a slower effect and are usually taken once a day at the same time. Fast-acting insulin-like Novarapid or Humalog work really quickly. They’re taken shortly before or after meals.

You will usually need a combination of different types of insulin to get the very best glucose control. Your doctor will advise you as to the best combination during consultation.

Insulin pumps for type 1 diabetes

Insulin pumps for type 1 diabetes are portable computerised devices that deliver small amounts of insulin into your body throughout the day and night.

Insulin pumps just administer fast-acting insulin. You programme them to deliver a basal or background level of insulin; then, you can add a bolus of insulin at mealtimes to balance the carbohydrate content of your food.

Insulin pumps more closely match your body’s natural insulin release. They can improve your diabetes control and prevent the problems that can occur with longer-acting insulin formulations, such as night-time hypos.

Type 2 diabetes medication

Type 2 diabetes medications can help reduce your blood glucose and prevent long term diabetes complications. Innovative new injectable medications can also help you lose weight, improving your wellbeing and your metabolic health.

Oral diabetes medications are usually the first line of treatment for type 2 diabetes that hasn’t responded to lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Your doctor may prescribe diabetes medications on their own or in combination to achieve the best diabetes control. Below we cover the different types of diabetes medications available:


  • Metformin: The biguanide medication metformin is typically the first diabetes tablet prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes. It helps your body to respond more effectively to the insulin it produces.

Metformin also suppresses glucose production in your liver and glucose absorption in the gut.


  • Sulfonylureas: Sulfonylureas or Sulphonylureas include the drugs Glibenclamide, Gliclazide and Tolbutamide. They work by increasing insulin production, which reduces blood glucose levels.


  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors: Acarbose prevents absorption of starchy carbohydrate foods from the food you eat. Starch-blockers help glucose levels rise more gradually after a meal.


  • Prandial glucose regulators: Repaglinide and Nateglinide are examples of prandial glucose regulators. Like sulfonylureas, they stimulate the pancreas to increase insulin production.

They act rapidly and for a short time so you should usually take them half an hour before.


  • Glitazones: Also known as thiazolidinediones, glitazones like Pioglitazone help insulin work more effectively by reducing insulin resistance.

Glitazones can also lower blood pressure and improve the balance of healthy to unhealthy cholesterol in your blood.


  • Gliptins: Gliptins or DPP-4 inhibitors like Sitagliptin and Saxagliptin block an enzyme called DPP-4. The enzyme breaks down the hormone incretin.

Gliptins prevent DPP-4 from breaking down incretin; as a result, incretin levels rise, and your body produces more insulin and less glucose.


  • SGLT2 Inhibitors: Sodium-glucose like cotransporter 2 inhibitors include the drugs Dapagliflozin and Empagliflozin. The oral medications stop your kidneys from reabsorbing glucose that has been filtered out of the blood.

You will pass more glucose out in your urine, and the glucose levels in your blood will be lower.


If oral medication hasn’t worked to control your type 2 diabetes, you may be prescribed injectable medication:


  • Insulin: If your diabetes is poorly controlled, you may need to inject insulin to control your blood sugar levels.


  • Incretin mimetics: GLP1 medications of incretin mimetics like Liraglutide or Saxenda are innovative injectable diabetes medications. You inject the drugs daily or weekly.

They stimulate insulin release, reduce glucagon production and slow down stomach emptying. Incretin mimetics can decrease blood glucose levels, reduce hunger and make you feel full sooner, so it can support healthy weight loss.


To find out more about effective diabetes medications, or to speak to one of our specialists about prospective treatment options, get in touch today.



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Carol Willis - Diabetes Clinic Facilitator

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