There’s no cure for diabetes, so treatment aims to keep your blood glucose levels as normal as possible and to control your symptoms to prevent health problems developing later in life.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll be referred for specialist treatment from a diabetes care team. They’ll be able to explain your condition in detail and help you understand your treatment. They’ll also closely monitor your condition to identify any health problems that may occur.
Type 1 diabetes occurs because your body can’t produce enough insulin. This means you’ll need regular insulin treatment to keep your glucose levels normal.
Insulin comes in several different preparations, each of which works slightly differently. For example, some last up to a whole day (long-acting), some last up to eight hours (short-acting) and some work quickly but don’t last very long (rapid-acting). Your treatment is likely to include a combination of these different insulin preparations.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll probably need insulin injections. Insulin must be injected, because if it were taken as a tablet, it would be broken down in your stomach – like food – and would be unable to enter your bloodstream.
When you’re first diagnosed, your diabetes care team will help you with your insulin injections, before showing you how and when to do it yourself. They’ll also show you how to store your insulin and dispose of your needles properly.
Insulin injections are usually given by an injection pen, which is also known as an insulin pen or auto-injector. However, injections are sometimes given using a syringe. Most people need two to four injections a day.
Your GP or diabetes nurse may also teach one of your close friends or relatives how to inject the insulin properly.
Insulin pump therapy is an alternative to injecting insulin. An insulin pump is a small device that holds insulin and is about the size of a pack of playing cards.
The pump is attached to you by a long, thin piece of tubing, with a needle at the end, which is inserted under your skin. Most people insert the needle into their stomach, but you could also insert it into your hips, thighs, buttocks or arms.
The pump allows insulin to continuously flow into your bloodstream at a rate you can control. This means you no longer need to give yourself injections, although you’ll need to monitor your blood glucose levels very closely to ensure you’re receiving the right amount of insulin.
Insulin pump therapy can be used by adults, teenagers and children (with adult supervision) who have type 1 diabetes. However, it may not be suitable for everyone. Your diabetes care team may suggest pump therapy if you have frequent episodes of low blood glucose (hypoglycaemia).
An important part of your treatment is to make sure that your blood sugar level is as normal and stable as possible.
You’ll be able to manage this using insulin treatment and by eating a healthy, balanced diet, but you will also have to regularly check your blood glucose levels to make sure they’re not too high or too low.
Exercise, illness, stress, drinking alcohol, taking other medicines and, for women, changes to your hormone levels during your monthly period can all affect your blood sugar levels.
In most cases, you’ll need to check your blood glucose levels during the day, both at home and at work or school, using a simple finger prick blood test. You may need to do this up to four or more times a day, depending on the type of insulin treatment you’re taking. Your diabetes care team will talk to you about your ideal blood glucose level.
The normal blood sugar level is 4.0-7.0 mmol/l before meals and less than 9.0 mmol/l two hours after meals. Mmol/l means millimoles per litre, and it’s a way of defining the concentration of glucose in your blood.
You’ll be measuring your blood glucose yourself every day, to check your levels.
Your GP or diabetes care team will also carry out a different blood test every two to six months, called the HbA1c test.
This gives a clearer idea of how well your treatment plan is working, by measuring how stable your glucose levels have been over the past 6-12 weeks.
It measures the amount of haemoglobin, which is the oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells that has glucose attached to it. A high HbA1c level may indicate that your blood glucose level is consistently high and that your diabetes treatment plan needs to be altered.
Source: NHS UK