Many people with type 2 diabetes also need medicine to help lower blood glucose.
When you have diabetes your blood glucose levels can vary at different times. Your GP or nurse will tell you to change the dose of your diabetes medicine if needed.
Getting the right medicine for you
There are many types of type 2 diabetes medicines that help lower the amount of glucose in your blood.
If eating healthy foods, being active and losing weight are not enough to help lower your blood glucose, you may need to start diabetes medicine.
It can take time to find a medicine and dose that's right for you. Your GP or nurse will support you with this. Over time you may need a combination of medicines to help keep blood glucose at a healthy level.
For some people tablets may not be enough to treat their type 2 diabetes. The best alternative may be to add insulin treatment. Insulin can be given easily using a tiny needle inside a pen-like gadget.
Your GP and nurse will support you if you need to use insulin treatment.
Eating healthily, being active and being a healthy weight are still important parts of treating your diabetes, even if you are taking medicine to help reduce your blood glucose.
Taking your medicine
Your GP or nurse will explain how to take your medicine and how to store it. You can also get information and advice from your local pharmacist.
Download the 'My Medicines List' (PDF, 243 KB, 2 pages) to keep a list of all the medicines and supplements you take. Bring your medicine list to your diabetes check-ups for review.
Take your medicine as prescribed. Do not stop taking medicine without getting advice from your GP or nurse first.
Sometimes diabetes medicine can cause side effects.
If you feel unwell after taking medicine or notice any side effects, speak to your GP or nurse. Read the medicines leaflet for the list of side effects. You can also get some information from your local pharmacist.
Taking some diabetes medicines, such as insulin or certain tablets can put you at risk of a low blood glucose. This is known as 'hypoglycaemia' or 'hypo'.
It is considered a risk when your blood glucose level is too low (below 4). Always check with your GP, nurse, pharmacist or diabetes team if your medicine puts you at risk of a hypo. They will advise you how to be prepared to manage and treat a hypo.
Free prescriptions for diabetes medicine
The HSE Long term Illness scheme offers everyone with type 2 diabetes a Long term illness (LTI) card. There is no means test for the scheme. You'll be able to get diabetes prescription medicines and some appliances free of charge.
Also covered on the scheme are:
- some medicines that affect diabetes management such as cholesterol or blood pressure lowering medicines
- insulin pens or syringes
- blood glucose testing strips and lancets (meters are not included)
- some hypo treatments
A range of hypo treatments are available through your pharmacy. If your hypo treatment is prescribed by your GP or clinician it may be available under the LTI scheme. Check with your pharmacy what is currently available under the LTI scheme.
Find out more about schemes and allowances
Travelling with diabetes medicines
If you're travelling:
- make sure you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for free healthcare in all countries of the EU and Switzerland - there is no charge for the EHIC
- pack extra medicine and supplies – speak to your GP or nurse about how much to bring
- if you're flying with a medicine you inject, get a letter from your GP that says you need it to treat diabetes
- bring a letter from your GP stating you have diabetes and a list of medicines and other equipment that you need, for example blood glucose meter and needles
- carry your medicine in your hand luggage just in case checked-in bags go missing or get damaged
- bring more medicine than you need in case your flights are delayed or your trip is extended
- check your travel insurance covers you before you go
- carry identification stating you have diabetes especially if you are taking medicine which may increase risk of 'hypos' (low blood glucose levels)
- carry 'hypo' treatment if taking medicine that increases risk of 'hypos'
- bring a prescription with generic names of your medicines in case you need more or need to visit a doctor while travelling
Blood glucose testing
Some people with type 2 diabetes may be advised not to test their own blood glucose levels. Instead, they will be advised to have diabetes check-ups with their GP 2 to 3 times a year. This will include a blood test that checks average blood glucose over the last 8 to 12 weeks, called the HbA1c or Haemoglobin A1c.
Some medicines (insulin or certain tablets) have a risk of causing low blood glucose or hypoglycaemia. If you are taking these medicines as part of your diabetes treatment you will be advised to check your blood glucose. This is especially important if you drive.
This can be done using:
- a blood glucose monitor or meter
- finger lancets
- test strips for blood glucose
Finger lancets and test strips are available on the long term illness scheme
Your GP or nurse will advise you on:
- how often to test your blood glucose levels - this will depend on if your diabetes treatment is with diet and activity only or with certain tablets or with insulin
- when to test
- how to understand and make sense of the blood glucose reading you get
- the blood glucose levels to aim for at different times of the day - for example, when fasting (first thing in the morning before eating) or before meals or 1 to 2 hours after meals
- your responsibility to test your blood glucose when you drive, as advised by the Road Safety Authority of Ireland.
Blood glucose testing gives you a reading of your blood glucose level at that moment in time. It is a different blood glucose test to the one you do at your GP, called the HbA1c.
Blood glucose is recommended to be between 4 to 7mmol/L fasting and less than 10mmol/L 1 to 2 hours after a meal.