Diabetes | Oral Medicines for Diabetes

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What medicines could my doctor prescribe?

Six kinds of diabetes medicine are available in pill form: metformin (a biguanide), sulfonylureas, thiazolidinediones, meglitinides, biguanides, thiazolidinediones, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors. Each medicine has good points and bad points. Your doctor will decide which medicine is right for you.

Metformin

Metformin is a type of biguanide and it is currently the only biguanide available in the United States. It is often the first oral medicine prescribed for someone newly diagnosed with diabetes. It has the advantage of not causing low blood sugar. Metformin does not cause your pancreas to make insulin, but it helps your body use insulin better. Metformin can cause side effects such as nausea or diarrhea in some people. Your doctor may prescribe metformin in combination with another oral diabetes medicine.

Sulfonylureas

Sulfonylureas are the most commonly prescribed diabetes medicines. These medicines help your pancreas make insulin. They are inexpensive and have few side effects. There are 3 types of sulfonyureas: glipizide, glimepiride and glyburide. Side effects may include weight gain and low level of sodium in the blood. Sulfonylureas can be taken alone or with metformin, pioglitazone (a thiazolidinedione) or insulin. If you're allergic to sulfa, you can't take a sulfonylurea.

Thiazolidinediones

This class of medicines includes rosiglitazone and pioglitazone. These medicines help your body respond better to insulin. Rosiglitazone and pioglitazone can be used alone or in combination with other diabetes medicines. Side effects may include weight gain, fluid retention and an increase in LDL ("bad") cholesterol. People taking rosiglitazone and pioglitazone also need periodic liver tests.

Source

Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by Joe A. Florence, M.D., and Bryan F. Yeager, Pharm.D (American Family Physician May 15, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990515ap/2835.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 05/99

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