• Treatment

    The immediate goals are to treat diabetic ketoacidosis and high blood glucose levels. Because type 1 diabetes can start suddenly and have severe symptoms, people who are newly diagnosed may need to go to the hospital.

    The long-term goals of treatment are to:

    • Prolong life
    • Reduce symptoms
    • Prevent diabetes-related complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure, and amputation of limbs

    These goals are accomplished through:

    • Blood pressure and cholesterol control
    • Careful self testing of blood glucose levels
    • Education
    • Exercise
    • Foot care
    • Meal planning and weight control
    • Medication or insulin use

    There is no cure for diabetes. Treatment involves medicines, diet, and exercise to control blood sugar and prevent symptoms.


    Basic diabetes management skills will help prevent the need for emergency care. These skills include:

    • How to recognize and treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
    • What to eat and when
    • How to take insulin or oral medication
    • How to test and record blood glucose
    • How to test urine for ketones (type 1 diabetes only)
    • How to adjust insulin or food intake when changing exercise and eating habits
    • How to handle sick days
    • Where to buy diabetes supplies and how to store them

    After you learn the basics of diabetes care, learn how the disease can cause long-term health problems and the best ways to prevent these problems. Review and update your knowledge, because new research and improved ways to treat diabetes are constantly being developed.


    If you have diabetes, your doctor may tell you to regularly check your blood sugar levels at home. There are a number of devices available, and they use only a drop of blood. Self-monitoring tells you how well diet, medication, and exercise are working together to control your diabetes. It can help your doctor prevent complications.

    The American Diabetes Association recommends keeping blood sugar levels in a range based on your age. Discuss these goals with your doctor and diabetes educator.

    Before meals:

    • 70 - 130 mg/dL for adults
    • 100 - 180 mg/dL for children under age 6
    • 90 - 180 mg/dL for children 6 - 12 years old
    • 90 - 130 mg/dL for children 13 - 19 years old

    At bedtime:

    • Less than 180 mg/dL for adults
    • 110 - 200 mg/dL for children under age 6
    • 100 - 180 mg/dL for children 6 - 12 years old
    • 90 - 150 mg/dL for children 13 - 19 years old


    You should work closely with your health care provider to learn how much fat, protein, and carbohydrates you need in your diet. A registered dietician can help you plan your dietary needs.

    People with type 1 diabetes should eat at about the same times each day and try to be consistent with the types of food they choose. This helps to prevent blood sugar from becoming extremely high or low.

    People with type 2 diabetes should follow a well-balanced and low-fat diet.

    See: Diabetes diet


    Medications to treat diabetes include insulin and glucose-lowering pills called oral hypoglycemic drugs.

    People with type 1 diabetes cannot make their own insulin. They need daily insulin injections. Insulin does not come in pill form. Injections are generally needed one to four times per day. Some people use an insulin pump. It is worn at all times and delivers a steady flow of insulin throughout the day. Other people may use inhaled insulin. See also: Type 1 diabetes

    Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes may respond to treatment with exercise, diet, and medicines taken by mouth. There are several types of medicines used to lower blood glucose in type 2 diabetes. See also: Type 2 diabetes

    Medications may be switched to insulin during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

    Gestational diabetes may be treated with exercise and changes in diet.


    Regular exercise is especially important for people with diabetes. It helps with blood sugar control, weight loss, and high blood pressure. People with diabetes who exercise are less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those who do not exercise regularly.

    Here are some exercise considerations:

    • Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
    • Ask your doctor or nurse if you have the right footwear.
    • Choose an enjoyable physical activity that is appropriate for your current fitness level.
    • Exercise every day, and at the same time of day, if possible.
    • Monitor blood glucose levels before and after exercise.
    • Carry food that contains a fast-acting carbohydrate in case you become hypoglycemic during or after exercise.
    • Carry a diabetes identification card and a cell phone in case of emergency.
    • Drink extra fluids that do not contain sugar before, during, and after exercise.

    You may need to change your diet or medication dose if you change your exercise intensity or duration to keep blood sugar levels from going too high or low.


    People with diabetes are more likely to have foot problems. Diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves and decrease the body's ability to fight infection. You may not notice a foot injury until an infection develops. Death of skin and other tissue can occur.

    If left untreated, the affected foot may need to be amputated. Diabetes is the most common condition leading to amputations.

    To prevent injury to the feet, check and care for your feet every day.

    For more information, see:

    • Diabetes foot care
    • Type 1 diabetes
    • Type 2 diabetes

    Support Groups

    For additional information, see diabetes resources.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    With good blood glucose and blood pressure control, many of the complications of diabetes can be prevented.

    Studies have shown that strict control of blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels in persons with diabetes helps reduce the risk of kidney disease, eye disease, nervous system disease, heart attack, and stroke.


    Emergency complications include:

    • Diabetic hyperglycemic hyperosmolar coma
    • Diabetic ketoacidosis

    Long-term complications include:

    • Atherosclerosis
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Diabetic nephropathy
    • Diabetic neuropathy
    • Diabetic retinopathy
    • Erection problems
    • Hyperlipidemia
    • Hypertension
    • Infections of the skin, female urinary tract, and urinary tract
    • Peripheral vascular disease
    • Stroke

    Calling your health care provider

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of ketoacidosis:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Deep and rapid breathing
    • Increased thirst and urination
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Nausea
    • Sweet-smelling breath

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of extremely low blood sugar (hypoglycemic coma or severe insulin reaction):

    • Confusion
    • Convulsions or unconsciousness
    • Dizziness
    • Double vision
    • Drowsiness
    • Headache
    • Lack of coordination
    • Weakness