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Type 2 Diabetes: How Is It Treated?
People with type 2 diabetes need to follow a treatment plan. Also called a diabetes management plan, it helps them manage their diabetes and stay healthy and active. Treatment plans are based on a person's individual health needs and the suggestions of the diabetes health care team.
Diabetes Treatment Basics
The first thing to understand when it comes to treating diabetes is your blood glucose level, which is just what it sounds like — the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a sugar that comes from the foods we eat and also is formed and stored inside the body. It's the main source of energy for the cells of the body, and is carried to them through the blood. Glucose gets into the cells with the help of the hormone insulin.
90-Second Summary: Type 2 Diabetes
Learn the basics in 90 seconds.
So how do blood glucose levels relate to type 2 diabetes? People with type 2 diabetes don't respond normally to insulin anymore, so glucose stays in the bloodstream and doesn't get into the cells. This causes blood glucose levels to go too high.
High blood sugar levels can make teens with type 2 diabetes feel sick, so their treatment plan involves keeping their blood sugar levels within a healthy range while making sure they grow and develop normally. To do that, they need to:
- eat a healthy, balanced diet and follow a meal plan
- get regular exercise
- take medicines as prescribed
- check blood sugar levels regularly
The good news is that sticking to the plan can help people feel healthy and avoid diabetes problems later.
Eat a Healthy Diet and Follow a Meal Plan
Eating right and exercising more often is good for everyone. But it's especially important for people with type 2 diabetes. When people put on too much body fat, it's because they're eating more calories than they use each day. The body stores that extra energy in fat cells. Over time, gaining pounds of extra fat can lead to obesity and diseases related to obesity, like type 2 diabetes.
Getting to a healthy weight — even losing just a few pounds of extra body fat — goes a long way in helping to keep blood sugar levels under control. How do you do it? Eating healthy foods is one thing people with type 2 diabetes can do. They also have to pay attention to the amount of carbohydrates (or carbs) and calories in the foods they eat.
Eating certain foods will cause blood sugar levels to go up more than others, which can make controlling blood sugar more difficult for people with diabetes unless insulin and other diabetes medicines are taken at the proper times and doses.
The three major nutrients in food are carbs, proteins, and fats. Foods that cause blood sugar levels to go up contain carbohydrates. Foods that contain mostly protein and/or fat don't affect blood sugar levels as much as foods with carbs. But they still contain calories and can cause people to gain too much body fat if they eat too much of them.
For people with type 2 diabetes (and everyone else, too), it's best to not eat too many sugary treats or fast foods. They're not really healthy food choices, and they can make them gain too much body fat and get cavities. They also might need to eat smaller amounts of food.
A balanced, healthy diet doesn't mean giving up your favorite foods or going on a starvation diet. But you'll probably have to limit junk food and sweets and eat smaller portions of foods if you're overweight.
To help you eat right, you and your diabetes health care team will create a written diabetes meal plan. Meal plans usually consist of guidelines for preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner with scheduled between-meal snacks.
The diabetes meal plan won't tell you specific foods to eat, but it will guide you in selecting choices from the basic food groups and help you eat nutritious, balanced meals. Each meal and snack in the plan contains a certain amount of carbs, which works with the types and amount of diabetes medicines you take.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is good for everyone, including people with diabetes. It's also an important part of diabetes treatment because exercise can improve your body's response to insulin, help you lose extra body fat, and get your heart and lungs in good shape.
You might be wondering about how exercise will affect your diabetes, but you shouldn't use diabetes as an excuse not to get moving. Most types of exercise are great for people with type 2 diabetes — from walking the dog or riding a bike to playing team sports. Make it your goal to exercise every day to get the most benefits.
You can talk to your diabetes health care team about making any necessary meal or medication adjustments when you exercise. They'll offer specific suggestions to help you get ready for exercise or join a sport and give you written instructions to help you respond to any diabetes problems that may happen during exercise, like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Take Medicines as Prescribed
Several medicines are available for people with type 2 diabetes. They work in different ways to help the body make or respond to insulin better.
Sometimes pills for diabetes — even when combined with diet and exercise — aren't enough to keep blood sugar levels under control. Some people with type 2 diabetes also have to take insulin. The only way to get insulin into the body now is by injection with a needle or with an insulin pump. If someone tried to take insulin as a pill, the acids and digestive juices in the stomach and intestines would break down the medicine, and it wouldn't work.
Getting insulin injections today is nearly painless, thanks to smaller needles. Insulin pumps (which deliver insulin through a small tube placed just under the skin) cut down on the number of injections needed.
Different kinds of insulin are used for different purposes. The types of insulin you use and how you take it each day will depend on what's best for you and your daily schedule.
If you take an insulin shot but forget to eat, your blood sugar levels can get too low. So try to avoid skipping meals or snacks. If your parents remind you to eat when you take your insulin, it's probably because they worry about you, not because they're trying to nag you!
Your diabetes health care team will teach you how and when to give yourself insulin.
Check Blood Sugar Levels
Checking your blood sugar levels is another part of your diabetes treatment plan. It lets you know how well the other parts of your treatment plan are working, and it's the only way to know how you are doing with your diabetes control on a daily basis.
Your care team may recommend that you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a wearable device that can measure blood sugar every few minutes around the clock. It's measured by a thread-like sensor inserted under the skin and secured in place. The more frequent CGM blood sugar readings can help you and the care team do an even better job of troubleshooting and adjusting your insulin doses and diabetes management plan to improve blood sugar control.
A blood glucose meter or CGM tells you what your blood sugar level is at the moment. Your doctor may also send you for another type of blood sugar test called a hemoglobin A1c test (HbA1c for short). It lets you and your care team know how your blood sugar levels have been for the few months before the test.
Putting It All Together
Treating and managing diabetes can seem complicated at times. But your diabetes health care team is there for you. Your diabetes management plan should be easy to understand, detailed, and written down for you so that you can refer to it whenever you need to.
The good news about type 2 diabetes is that if you do the diabetes treatment steps listed above, your blood sugar levels can return to a healthier range. For some people with type 2 diabetes, that can mean not even needing to take diabetes medicines anymore.
You also might hear about alternative treatments for diabetes, such as herbal remedies and vitamin or mineral supplements. These practices can be risky, especially when people stop following the treatment plan their doctor has given them. So get the facts by talking to your diabetes health care team. They keep track of the latest research developments, and will introduce new products as they become available.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.