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Diabetes Demands a Triad of Treatments

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Oral Drugs continued...

Metformin is also contraindicated in patients with liver dysfunction. "It should be used only in healthy patients, and it's not for the elderly," Misbin says.

Precose is less effective but usually safer to use than Metformin, he points out. Precose's one major side effect is flatulence. Precose stops, or delays, absorption of carbohydrates and in doing so delivers glucose and other carbohydrates, which cause gas, Santiago explains. "Flatulence can occur when the drug is used at high doses, but this can be reduced by beginning the drug at a low dose and going up... a 'start-low, go-slow' approach."

Product labeling recommends that doctors start patients on lower doses to combat the flatulence problem.

"Although the lowest effective dose is 25 milligrams three times a day with meals, some physicians are starting patients on just 25 mg daily to minimize this side effect," Misbin says.

The newest drug, Rezulin, was well-tolerated in clinical studies. The most commonly reported side effects were infection, pain and headache, but these occurred at rates comparable to those in the placebo-treated patients. The drug should be prescribed with caution in patients with advanced heart failure or liver disease.

Some diabetes experts report that when it comes to prescribing initial therapy for Type II diabetics, some doctors tend to follow a "treatment of laziness" -- for example, prescribing SFUs if they perceive difficulties in the patient's ability to change dietary habits or lifestyle.

"Sometimes, patients with diabetes are treated with drugs when it's not really necessary," Misbin says. "Oral pills should be used in Type II diabetes only when diet and exercise are not effective. It's very common for overweight patients who lose weight to lower their own blood sugar levels and come off the medicines. The problem is that it's very difficult to get patients to lose weight."

So, the bottom line in diabetes control still hinges on patients' ability to manage the disease themselves. "I don't know of a chronic disease in which the person who suffers from it is so responsible for its management," says ADA president Cryer. "The patient has to become an expert regarding their own diabetes."

Although drug treatment makes a difference to many diabetics and their quality of life, Cryer adds that current diabetes treatments are still "not ideal." He hopes that continuing research will someday find the answer to the diabetes dilemma.

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