Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, most people with Type I died within a few years after the appearance of the disease. Although insulin is not considered a cure for diabetes, its discovery was the first major breakthrough in diabetes treatment.
Today, daily injections of insulin are the basic therapy for Type I diabetes. Insulin injections must be balanced with meals and daily activities, and glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood sugar testing.
Diet, exercise, and blood testing for glucose are also the basis for management of Type II diabetes. In addition, some people with Type II diabetes take oral drugs or insulin to lower their blood glucose levels. There are several different classes of drugs that treat the problem using different mechanisms of action.
People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care. Much of the daily care involves trying to keep blood sugar levels from going too low or too high. When blood sugar levels drop too low—a condition known as hypoglycemia—a person can become nervous, shaky, and confused. Judgment can be impaired. Eventually, the person could pass out. The treatment for low blood sugar is to eat or drink something with sugar in it.
On the other hand, a person can become very ill if blood sugar levels rise too high, a condition known as hyperglycemia. Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which can occur in people with Type I or Type II diabetes, are both potentially life-threatening emergencies. Doctors should monitor patients with diabetes and check them for complications. Doctors who specialize in diabetes are called endocrinologists or diabetologists.
The goal of diabetes management is to keep blood glucose levels as close to the normal (nondiabetic) range as safely possible. A recent Government study, sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), proved that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as safely possible reduces the risk of developing major complications of diabetes.