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Medicines for Diabetes

For most kids with diabetes, taking medicine is an important part of staying healthy. Medicine, such as insulin, is a must for kids with type 1 diabetes. A kid with type 2 diabetes might need medicine, too. His or her doctor will say if it's necessary.

And if a kid's doctor says to take diabetes medicine, it's very important for the kid to take it just as the doctor suggests. Not taking medicine — or not taking it correctly — can make a kid feel terrible and cause health problems. He or she even could end up in the hospital.

Taking the medicine correctly keeps blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low, which will help a kid stay healthy and feel good.

All About Insulin

The most common diabetes medicine is insulin, which you can get through shots or an insulin pump. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into the body's cells where it can be used for energy. Without insulin around, glucose stays in the blood and blood sugar levels get too high.

The types of insulin you use and how much you need to take each day will depend on your diabetes management plan. Some kids with diabetes need to take two injections each day. Others may need more than two injections or an insulin pump to keep blood sugar levels under control. Your doctor will figure out what's best for you.

There are a few different kinds of insulin. They differ from one another based on:

  • how long they take to start working
  • when they work their hardest to lower blood sugar
  • how long they last

Insulin Table

The table below shows the types of insulin and how they work after they're taken. The actual time it takes for insulin to work can be different from person to person and can even change from day to day. When you've had diabetes for a while, you'll get a better idea of how insulin works in your body.

Insulin Type How Long It Takes to Start Working When It Works Hardest How Long It Lasts How It Works
rapid-acting 10-15 minutes 30-90 minutes 4 hours This type is used to help your body handle glucose that you absorb when eating a meal. Usually you take it right before eating, but it can also be taken just after eating. It looks clear and can be mixed with other types of insulin.
short-acting 30-60 minutes 2-4 hours 6-9 hours This type is also used to help your body handle glucose that you absorb when eating a meal, but it lasts longer than rapid-acting insulin. You should take it 30 minutes before eating. It looks clear and can be mixed with other types of insulin.
intermediate-
acting
1-4 hours 3-14 hours 10-24 hours This type works to control glucose between meals and during the night. It looks cloudy and can be mixed with other types of insulin.
long-acting long-acting long-acting 18-24 hours This type works to control glucose between meals and during the night. It looks cloudy or clear and can't be mixed with other types of insulin.

Usually a combination of different types of insulin is used to keep blood sugar levels under control throughout the day and night.

Another way kids keep blood sugar under control is by following their doctor's advice on eating and exercising. A kid's diabetes management plan will give specific instructions on these activities. By sticking to the plan, and sticking to the schedule for taking insulin, kids can keep blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low.

Diabetes Pills

Some kids with type 2 diabetes need to take diabetes pills or tablets. Doctors sometimes call these "oral" medications. "Oral" means having to do with the mouth, and these medicines are taken by swallowing them.

For kids with type 2 diabetes, these pills or tablets can help the body make more insulin or help the body do a better job of using the insulin it does make. These medicines work especially well if a kid also eats healthy and exercises regularly.

Glucagon

Insulin and other diabetes medicines help to keep your blood sugar levels from going too high. But sometimes kids with diabetes experience really low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. That's bad news because, if it's not treated right away, it can cause seizures or make a kid pass out.

A kid who has really low blood sugar might need a glucagon shot. Glucagon (say: GLOO-kuh-gon) is a hormone that helps raise blood sugar levels very quickly. Your doctor will tell your parents about these shots and explain how and when to give you one. It also might be a good idea for older brothers and sisters, babysitters, teachers, and other adults who take care of you to know about these shots. Everyone also should know when to call 911 because of a diabetes emergency.

And what can you do to prevent a diabetes emergency? You guessed it: Take your medicine just as the doctor tells you!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014