By Beth W. Orenstein Reviewed by Pat F. Bass, III, MD, MPH
Treating type 2 diabetes can be tricky. Here are common mistakes that can prevent you from taking your medication as prescribed and tips for avoiding them.
If taking medication is part of your type 2 diabetes treatment plan, following your doctor's directions is essential.
“It's important you take your medications on schedule because they have a timed-release,” says Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the co-author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com. Your healthcare provider has calculated the dosage and scheduling to best manage your blood sugar levels and keep them within normal range.
There's no single, exact formula when it comes to treating diabetes. But following your individualized course of diabetes medication makes it more likely to work as desired, says Matthew Corcoran, MD, CDE, ASCM, an endocrinologist in Egg Harbor, New Jersey, and founder of the Diabetes Training Camp at Franklin & Marshall College near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Controlling type 2 diabetes through medication and lifestyle changes can help you avoid serious complications such as heart disease, blindness, and kidney and nerve damage, according to the Independent Diabetes Trust. Yet it can be easy to get off track with your diabetes treatment plan, especially if you're newly diagnosed and think of yourself as healthy, according to a study published in April 2015 in Diabetes Care.
Here are common mistakes that may prevent you from sticking to your prescription routine and how you can avoid making them.
Mistake # 1 :You don't realize the role of your medications. “It is important you understand how the medications you are taking work,” Dr. Corcoran says. You’re more likely to take them properly if you do — and if you don't, ask questions of your healthcare providers. “Don’t be shy about asking your doctor to explain how your medication works,” he says.
Mistake # 2: You forget or skip doses. Sometimes it happens, and you should know what to do if you miss a dose. Ask your doctor if you should take it as soon as you realize the mistake, or simply take the next dose on schedule. Don’t simply double up. To stay on track, set reminders, such as an alarm on your smartphone or computer. Try to connect each dose with another daily activity done at the same time. “For instance, if you are to take your medication before breakfast, keep the medication bottle by the area you eat or next to your toothbrush as part of your morning routine,” Smithson says. Once you develop a habit of taking your medications at certain times, she says, you'll be less likely to forget or delay.
Mistake # 3 :You stop taking your meds if you experience unpleasant side effects. Some diabetes drugs can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea — any of which could tempt you to go off your care plan. Don't do that, Corcoran says. Instead, talk to your doctor about the side effects. There are many different diabetes medications available, and more on the horizon, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center, so you have options. An alternative drug or a different dosage of your current medication may help alleviate side effects, Smithson says.
Mistake # 4 : You take the wrong dose or the wrong medication. If you’re on insulin for type 2 diabetes, you may be given long-acting and short-acting insulin to take at different times, and the doses for each are likely to be much different. For example, short-acting insulin is designed to quickly lower blood sugar and is tied to pre- or post-meal blood sugar. "If you are supposed to take 40 units of long-acting at bedtime, but take the short-acting insulin instead, your blood sugar could fall too low. Pay attention each and every time you take insulin and make sure you’re grabbing the right one,” Corcoran says. It may be helpful to color-code your vials or keep the long-acting and short-acting on different shelves of the refrigerator, he suggests.
Mistake # 5 : You confuse the medications for your various health conditions. You may be taking medications not only for diabetes but for other illnesses as well. Consider using a daily pill organizer with various compartments for each day — morning, afternoon, and evening. Sit down every Sunday night and carefully fill your pillbox. It’s also wise to use just one pharmacy so that the pharmacist can cross-check all your prescriptions for possible drug interactions. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about any other prescriptions or over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking, Corcoran says.
Mistake # 6 :You ignore signs that your medication isn't as effective as it used to be. Over time, your diabetes medications may need adjustment, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center. A drug might stop working. Losing or gaining weight, or exercising more or less, can affect your medications and dosing schedule. If you’re having symptoms of low or high blood sugar, or if your blood sugar numbers are going out of range, talk to your doctor. “You need to work continually with your doctor so that you don’t have unexpected low or high blood sugars,” Corcoran says.
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