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Medicines for Diabetes

Many young adults with diabetes need to take medicines to stay healthy. It depends on the type of diabetes they have and what their doctor recommends.

Diabetes medicines help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range — not too high or too low. When blood sugar levels are in a healthy range, a person usually feels better. And the medicines can help prevent problems now and later.

What Kinds of Medicines Help Treat Diabetes?

There are a few kinds of medicines used to treat diabetes. Here’s how they work:

Insulin helps glucose get into the cells where it can be used for energy. People with diabetes either don't make insulin (type 1) or their cells don't respond to the insulin (type 2), so glucose stays in the blood and blood sugar levels get too high (hyperglycemia). All people with type 1 diabetes and many people with type 2 diabetes need to take insulin every day. You get insulin through shots or an insulin pump. The type and amount of insulin a person needs depends on what it says in their diabetes care plan.

Glucagon raises blood sugar levels quickly. A person who has really low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) probably needs a glucagon shot. Glucagon takes about 10 to 15 minutes to do its job.

Other kinds of medicines for people with type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes do best when they eat well and stay active every day.  But sometimes they also need to take medicines like metformin, glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, or sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors.  Here’s how these medicines work:

  • Metformin helps the body's natural insulin work better by bringing blood sugars into a healthy range. It can also help stop weight gain.
  • GLP-1 receptor agonists lower blood sugar and help the body’s natural insulin work better. They also decrease appetite, which may lead to weight loss.
  • SGLT-2 inhibitors lower blood sugar by sending more glucose out of the body in pee.

If you have any questions about your diabetes medicines, ask your doctor or someone on your diabetes health care team.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 31, 2024

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