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New Strategies for Treating Diabetes

July 16, 2012
Plain English Version

Diabetics have higher than normal levels of blood sugar. Over time, this may result in heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure, nerve damage and blindness. Diabetes also can lead to blood circulation problems and amputations.

Illustration by Joe Shoulak

Diabetes can be treated and controlled. The first therapy for new diabetics is to improve diet and exercise habits for up- to six months to reduce blood-sugar levels to see if patients can control the disease before beginning medication. Metformin, a basic diabetes medication, is also often prescribed.

New guidelines for treatment are being issued.  (Click Chart.) They recommend doctors vary treatment based on the patient’s age, health and even personal preferences.

For example, they no longer say that blood sugar levels must meet a standard target level. A very low blood sugar level might be right for a younger person, while older patients might do better with a somewhat higher blood sugar level.

If patients fail to control their blood sugar with metformin plus diet and exercise, treatment guidelines call for them to add a second diabetes drug. Typically, many diabetics go through three or four treatments. In the end, many add insulin injections to help control their blood sugar levels.

Because diabetes is a progressive disease some researchers think that treating the disease early by using insulin for short-term therapy might be effective in getting blood sugar back to a safer level. This might become an earlier treatment strategy.

A scientist concluded, “overweight and obesity is a terribly difficult problem. If we had a great treatment for obesity it would make a huge impact.”

The Wall Street Journal

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