Most cases of diabetes treatment are primarily in the hands of the patient. While periodic testing by a professional lab is desirable, along with regular physician consultation, the treatments themselves are typically performed by the diabetic.
Fortunately, there are more convenient and relatively painless ways to do that than ever before. While no one wants to have diabetes, the treatment options provide safe, reliable methods of self-care.
Some cases of Type 2 diabetes can be treated almost entirely with diet and exercise. Many of these might actually be labeled pre-diabetes, a condition in which the blood glucose level is chronically elevated, but not to the degree of actual diabetes.
But most of those who suffer from Type 2 diabetes, and virtually all Type 1 diabetes patients, will require some form of glucose management. That usually means taking insulin.
In past decades, that was delivered by one method: a injection of insulin from a glass syringe. That required great care, since it involved the need to sterilize the needle and injection location, and give oneself regular shots. It was important to measure the dose accurately, as well. Not the worst possible problem, but far from pleasant, to be sure.
That option is still used in one form or another today, but there are also several other choices for contemporary self-care of diabetes.
Today, one can use pre-filled insulin pens. These are like a syringe in that they still inject insulin, but the cartridges and needle are sterile and the dosage is pre-measured. Insulin formulations vary and so the pens come in a variety. Most will deliver 300 units from an easy-to-use ink-cartridge style device, but they’re also adjustable.
The user dials in the desired amount with a knob on one end. The amount to be injected shows up in a small window on the side. The tip of the ‘pen’ contains a needle. The needle is inserted just under the skin, the insulin delivered, then both needle and cartridge are disposed of. In some cases, a user can simply throw away the entire pen and start with a new one the next time.
Another option is the insulin pump, a device about the size of a small cell phone. A relatively new device, it is usually attached outside the body, though some actually implant under the skin. In both cases, a computer-controlled device monitors the blood glucose level and releases the appropriate amount of insulin as needed. Insulin is delivered through a plastic tube tipped by a cannula (similar to a needle, but of soft plastic, not metal). The cannula is often implanted into the abdomen.
The proper amount is delivered discontinuously 24-hours per day whenever the monitor senses insulin is needed. This method results in a very accurate and timely management of blood glucose level.
Other delivery methods are still being tried, some of which work reasonably well.
Pills and Inhalers
Pills are convenient, but enzymes in the stomach tend to degrade the insulin so this method is still being perfected. Recently, new coatings have been devised that may make oral insulin delivery viable.
Nasal inhalers suffer from similar problems in delivering insulin to the bloodstream, and also tend to cause nasal irritation. Oral inhalers seem to work somewhat better, though there are still some possible side effects, such as coughing and mouth dryness. They’re an option for some, nonetheless.
More advanced forms of treatment are still being researched, including repairing the basic problem by transplanting pancreas cells and gene therapy. But until those bear fruit, these options provide the diabetic with safe, convenient and generally painless choices.