Treating Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes

There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes but there are ways to manage the glucose levels in the blood. Each patient that is diagnosed with diabetes is referred to a specialist diabetes care team; in addition to administering your medical care, they will talk to you about your condition, offer advice and support and monitor your condition closely. There are many different types of treatments available to type 1 diabetes sufferers; these include:

  • Insulin treatments: people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin so they need insulin treatment to regulate the level of glucose in their blood. Insulin treatments come in the form of insulin injections, insulin pump treatments and treatment using the insulin jet system. Most patients have insulin injections; usually patients have between 2 and 4 injections per day. When you are diagnosed, your care team will teach you how to inject yourself with insulin; it is also a good idea to teach your relatives and friends in case you need insulin quickly and cannot give yourself the injection. Insulin pump therapy offers an alternative treatment to injections; it uses a small device that holds insulin and a tube to connect the device to your body. The tube has a needle at the end of it, which is inserted under the patient’s skin; the insulin then flows into the patient’s body. The insulin jet system is a new treatment, which is now available to patients on the NHS; it is made up of a nozzle which is placed into the skin; insulin then flows extremely rapidly through the nozzle and then through the skin into the body.
  • Checking blood glucose levels: diabetes patients will be taught how to monitor their blood glucose levels by their specialist care team; this usually involves doing a quick finger prick test. The level of glucose in the blood should be between 4.0 and 7.0 mmol/litre before eating and lower than 9mmol/litre after eating. In addition to checking your glucose levels regularly, you will also be encouraged to see your care team regularly for a blood test known as the HbA1c test; usually these are carried out every 3-6 months. The HbA1c test allows your doctors to see how well your treatments have been functioning and how stable your blood glucose levels have been over the course of the last 2 or 3 months.
  • Treating hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels): if you have hypoglycaemia you may start to feel tired, shaky and weak because your blood glucose is too low. In mild cases, this can usually be resolved by drinking a sugary drink or eating something with high sugar content, such as a piece of chocolate or a sugar cube. If you have severe hypoglycaemia you may feel faint, drowsy and confused; in some cases you may even lose consciousness. If this is the case, you need to have a shot of glucagon (this is inserted into the muscle); most people with type 1 diabetes carry a glucagon injection with them; it is a good idea to tell people around you that you have diabetes and let them know where you keep your glucagon injection.  In the event that you come across somebody with type 1 diabetes and they don’t respond to a glucagon injection, you should call 999 immediately.
  • Treating hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose levels): if you have hyperglycaemia you might need to make changes to your diet; you can discuss this with your GP or your diabetes care team. Hyperglycaemia should not be left untreated as it may contribute to a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis, which can potentially be fatal. This condition occurs when the body starts to break down fats instead of glucose for energy supplies; this causes a collection of acids in the body.
  • Self-help: making a few simple changes to your lifestyle will help you to stay healthy; these include giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol, eating healthily and exercising regularly. People with type 1 diabetes are also advised to take good care of their feet and have regular eye tests; diabetes makes people prone to infections in the foot and eye conditions including retinopathy, a condition that causes damage to the tiny blood vessels in the eye.

Type 2 diabetes

Like type 1 diabetes, there is no cure for type 2 diabetes; however, making changes to your lifestyle can help to control symptoms and regulate the level of glucose in your blood stream. Once you have been diagnosed, you will be referred to a specialist diabetes care team; this team of people will talk to you about your condition, help you with exercise, diet and nutrition and explain how to check your blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is a long-term condition, but it can be improved considerably by living a healthy lifestyle; this involves:

  • Eating healthily: this involves cutting down on fatty and sugary foods and replacing them with wholegrain foods, lean meat and fresh fruit and vegetables. People with diabetes will be advised to cut down on foods that are high in salt and cholesterol; this will produce a range of health benefits, which you will begin to notice straight away. You should discuss your diet with a diabetic dietician.
  • Exercising regularly: this involves raising your heart rate for a period of 30 minutes 5 times each week; this will help to improve circulation, reduce blood pressure and increase the efficacy of all your organs and muscles. Exercise will also reduce stress and help you to relax and feel good about yourself.
  • Give up smoking: smoking, coupled with diabetes, increases the risk of suffering from serious health conditions such as heart disease and strokes considerably; if you need help quitting ask your GP for details of the NHS smokefree campaign.
  • Cut down on alcohol: alcohol can have implications for your blood sugar levels and may contribute to either hypoglycaemia or hyperglycaemia.

If the symptoms of diabetes cannot be controlled by simply living a healthier lifestyle, medication may be prescribed and treatments, such as insulin treatment may be recommended. People with type 2 diabetes should check their blood glucose levels on a regular basis, using a finger prick test; patients will also have an HbA1c test every 3-6 months to check their glucose levels over a long period of time. As with type 1 patients, patients with type 2 diabetes should also take good care of their feet and visit their optician for regular eye tests.  All patients with diabetes are also advised to have regular check-ups with their GP in order to ensure their overall general health is good.

Guide to Diabetes


Types of diabetes

Causes and risk factors

Living with diabetes

Preventing diabetes

Recognising the symptoms of diabetes

Treating diabetes