Researchers are developing innovative treatments that make diabetes easier to manage.
New drugs such as Actos (pioglitazone) and Avandia (rosiglitazone) lower insulin resistance. Drugs like Starlix (nateglinide) and Prandin (repaglinide) help the pancreas make more insulin. "These are tremendous aids in treating type 2 diabetes," says Dr. Bell.
The hemoglobin A1c test, a valuable but underused tool, makes a big difference in treatment. The test can tell the doctor how high the patient's blood sugar has been, on average, over the last two to three months. This provides a better picture of the degree to which the kidneys, heart, nerves, and eyes have been exposed to high blood sugar. Surprisingly, only 40 percent of patients with diabetes get the hemoglobin A1c test once a year, says Bell. If you are diabetic, talk to your doctor about taking the test.
Everyone with diabetes must measure blood glucose with finger-stick tests -- on a daily basis or even hour by hour -- so they know how food, exercise, and medication affect their blood sugar. In 2001 the Food and Drug Administration approved a noninvasive meter resembling a wristwatch that uses low-frequency electrical current to measure glucose. For now this and similar new meters must still be used alongside finger-stick testing, but the days of numerous pricks and sore fingers may end soon.
For those who must take insulin, the chore of injection has gotten quicker and less painful with inventive gadgets. For example, a disposable, penlike injector that contains insulin and small needles tucks in a pocket.
The insulin pump, an improved insulin-delivery method used mainly by type 1 diabetic patients, is available in sizes as small as a pager.
The insulin inhaler is another innovation. However, more studies are needed to investigate how inhaling insulin directly into the lungs affects lung tissue, says Bell. Gavin does not believe these inhalers will replace insulin injections for most patients over the long term.
For now, medications, regular checkups, nutrition, and exercise are the best ways to manage diabetes, and live a full life.