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Diabetes Medications: Uses, Types, Side-Effects

Discover how diabetes medications work, the types of diabetes medicines, and diabetes medications side-effects.

What I Need to Know About Diabetes Medicines

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How Diabetes Medicines Work

Over time, high levels of blood glucose, also called blood sugar, can can cause health problems. These problems include heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, nerve damage, digestive problems, eye disease, and tooth and gum problems. You can help prevent health problems by keeping your blood glucose levels on target.

Everyone with diabetes needs to choose foods wisely and be physically active. If you can't reach your target blood glucose levels with wise food choices and physical activity, you may need diabetes medicines. The kind of medicine you take depends on your type of diabetes, your schedule, and your other health conditions.

Drawing of a woman taking a pill with a glass of water. She is sitting in a chair at a table. A pill container with compartments for each day of the week is on the table in front of her. One compartment is open.

You may need diabetes medicines to reach your blood glucose targets.

Diabetes medicines help keep your blood glucose in your target range. The target range is suggested by diabetes experts and your doctor or diabetes educator. See below for more information about target levels for good health.


 

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What targets are recommended for blood glucose levels?

The National Diabetes Education Program uses blood glucose targets set by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) for most people with diabetes. To learn your daily blood glucose numbers, you'll check your blood glucose levels on your own using a blood glucose meter.

Target blood glucose levels for most people with diabetesMy targets
Before meals 70 to 130 mg/dL*  
1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal Less than 180 mg/dL  

* Milligrams per deciliter.

Also, you should ask your doctor for a blood test called the A1C at least twice a year. The A1C will give you your average blood glucose for the past 3 months.

Target A1C result for people with diabetesMy targets
Less than 7 percent  

Your personal A1C goal might be higher or lower than 7 percent. Keeping your A1C as close to normal as possible—below 6 percent without having frequent low blood glucose—can help prevent long-term diabetes problems. Doctors might recommend other goals for very young children, older people, people with other health problems, or those who often have low blood glucose.

Talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about whether the target blood glucose levels and A1C result listed in the charts above are best for you. Write your own target levels in the charts. Both ways of checking your blood glucose levels are important.

If your blood glucose levels are not on target, you might need a change in how you take care of your diabetes. The results of your A1C test and your daily blood glucose checks can help you and your doctor make decisions about

  • what you eat
  • when you eat
  • how much you eat
  • what kind of exercise you do
  • how much exercise you do
  • the type of diabetes medicines you take
  • the amount of diabetes medicines you take

Last Updated: 10 March 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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