Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group
I recently reviewed updates to the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Standards of Care for 2017. In this post, I’ll review Section 8 of the standard that talks about different medications for treating diabetes. I will also discuss some of the newer medications used to treat diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes is always treated with insulin, either through multiple injections or an insulin pump. Type 2 Diabetes can be treated with oral medications (pills by mouth), injections, or both. The ADA recommends that people with Type 2 diabetes start patients start with the pill metformin, as long as it safe for them to take it. Taking metformin for a long time may lead to not getting enough Vitamin B12, stomach symptoms, and can affect how well the kidneys work (your care team will monitor your kidneys to be sure they are working properly).
If someone is taking one oral medication at the highest possible dose but their A1C is still not at goal, providers should consider adding additional medications: another oral medication, long acting insulin (injection), or a non-insulin injectable medication called glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 receptor agonists).
Examples of GLP-receptor agonists are exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza), and dulagultide (Trulicity). These medications cause food to move through the stomach slower so people feel full sooner. This leads to less glucagon (another hormone made by the pancreas) being released after meals and lowers appetite, which helps with weight loss. These medications need glucose to work, so there is little chance of hypoglycemia. Side effects include nausea, vomiting and acute pancreatitis. They may also cause medullary thyroid cancer in animals. It should be noted that these medications are expensive.
People with poorly controlled diabetes and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD aka heart disease) may benefit from a new medication called empagliflozin (Jardiance), a type of medication called SGLT-2 inhibitor. These medications work by preventing the body from reabsorbing glucose. This lets more glucose leave the body through urine. People may have lower blood sugar values after eating and lose some weight. Studies show empagliflozin helped reduce deaths caused by heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Empagliflozin is the only SGLT-2 inhibitor with these results, but other medications are being studied (liraglutide [Victoza] may have the same results, but other GLP-1 receptor agonists are not used this way). Potential side effects include hypoglycemia, low blood pressure, dizziness, urinary tract infection, needing to urinate a lot, and increased LDL and creatinine (a waste product filtered out by the kidneys). Again, these medications are very costly.
There are many medications available for the treatment of diabetes. These standards are general recommendations for medical care. Always discuss questions about your care plan with your healthcare provider.