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New Type 2 Diabetes Medications

By Terri D'Arrigo
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD

Even if you can manage your diabetes now by just eating well and being active, you may need medication someday.

We've come far since the 1920s, when insulin was first used to treat diabetes. There's no magic pill yet, but you have more options than ever before to help control your blood sugar. And more are coming.

Recommended Related to Diabetes

Are You in Diabetes Denial?

Don White, 68, a retired science teacher from upstate New York, first suspected he had type 2 diabetes when he was 45 years old and his school held a health fair for students and teachers. A simple prick of his finger to test for high blood sugar -- a sign of diabetes -- revealed some unexpected news. "My numbers were way above normal," says White. "In a matter of days, and a couple of doctor's appointments later, I found out I had type 2 diabetes." White and his family were surprised by the diagnosis...

Read the Are You in Diabetes Denial? article > >

Your Kidneys Move Extra Sugar Out

Most type 2 diabetes drugs work by helping your body make insulin or use it better. Some new medicines are different because they don't have anything to do with insulin.

Your kidneys try to keep glucose, a kind of sugar your cells use for energy, out of your pee. Proteins called sodium-glucose transporters (SGLTs) make sure the glucose goes back into your body.

But with type 2 diabetes, if your blood sugar level is already creeping up, you don't need the glucose in your body. Pills known as SGLT2 inhibitors turn off one of those proteins so that you pee it out instead.

  • Canagliflozin (Invokana)
  • Dapagliflozin (Farxiga)
  • Empagliflozin (Jardiance)

These drugs have some extra benefits, says John B. Buse, MD, PhD, director of the Diabetes Care Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "You're losing calories through urine, so there is weight loss -- usually about 5 to 10 pounds in 6 to 12 months."

When you take them, you lose a little bit of salt, too, which can help with your blood pressure.

These drugs aren't perfect, he says. "The downside is that, because there is sugar in your nether regions, women have a higher risk of yeast infections, and uncircumcised men can get foreskin infections."

To avoid the risk of dehydration, Buse says that elderly people with kidney disease and people who are taking diuretics, pills that make you pee out extra water, shouldn't take SGLT2 inhibitors.

Another downside in taking SGLT2 inhibitors is that you could run the risk of developing ketoacidosis, a condition where your body produces high levels of blood acids. If this happens you may require hospitalization.

In addition, canagliflozin has led to reduction in bone density in some patients which puts you at risk for bone fractures.

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