The type of diabetes you have determines the type of medication you may need.
- Some people who have type 2 diabetes need pills to control their blood glucose.
- Others who have type 2 diabetes need pills as well as insulin.
- People who have type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day.
- Women with gestational diabetes who do not respond to dietary changes must have insulin.
Oral Medications (Pills) for Diabetes
Diabetes pills don't work for everyone. Only you and your doctor can determine if they will work for you. Pills are never used in type 1 diabetes or during pregnancy.
In general, diabetes pills may work for you if:
- you've recently developed type 2 diabetes
- your body makes almost enough insulin to keep your blood glucose under control
Diabetes pills are probably not for you if:
- you have type 1 diabetes
- you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
If you have type 2 diabetes and can't control your blood glucose on a combination of diabetes pills, you may need to switch to insulin. Or, you may need to take a pill in addition to taking insulin shots. This is known as combination therapy.
You may need to take more than one pill, or you may need to take insulin along with pills. In both cases, it's called combination therapy.
Combination therapy can be helpful in the following circumstances:
- You have other health problems, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or you are overweight.
- The diabetes pills you have been taking have stopped working or have become less effective.
- You are sick or under stress.
- You can't keep your blood glucose within normal range by taking only one medication.
- You need surgery.
Combination therapy is more expensive and may increase your risk of side effects. On the other hand, it may be what you need to keep your blood glucose under control. Good blood glucose control helps protect you from the complications of diabetes.
If you need combination therapy, your doctor may prescribe either of the following:
- 2 or more diabetes pills
- 1 or more diabetes pills and insulin
If the pills you have been taking have stopped working, it doesn't mean your diabetes is uncontrollable. Your doctor may simply need to add another diabetes medicine to keep your blood glucose level within a healthy range.
When you are sick or under stress, your blood glucose can shoot up. During these times, you may also need to take insulin to keep your blood glucose controlled.
If you become pregnant, have type 2 diabetes, and take diabetes pills, you'll probably need to stop taking your diabetes pills and switch to insulin until the baby is born.
Written by award-winning health writer Bobbie Hasselbring
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008