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Non-Insulin Diabetes Injectables

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Insulin isn't the only type of injectable diabetes medicine your doctor might prescribe for you. Other drugs include:

Albiglutide (Tanzeum)

What it is: It's a man-made version of a hormone called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1). Your intestines normally release this substance when you eat. It helps control your blood sugar.

Who can take it: Adults who have type 2 diabetes and haven’t had success with other treatment. If you're planning to get pregnant, talk with your doctor, since researchers haven't studied albiglutide in pregnant women.

What it does: After you eat, albiglutide helps your pancreas release insulin, which moves blood sugar (glucose) into your cells. It also limits how much of the hormone glucagon your body makes. This substance spurs your liver to release stored sugar. The drug also slows down digestion.

Side effects: The most common ones are upper respiratory tract infection, diarrhea, nausea, and skin reactions where you give yourself the shot. All GLP-1 drugs, including albiglutide, have a boxed warning noting that in animal studies, this type of drug has been linked to thyroid cancer in some rats and mice. Experts don't know whether it has the same effect in people, though. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which may be severe, is another side effect.

Exenatide (Bydureon, Byetta)

What it is: Exenatide was the first GLP-1 drug approved by the FDA. Byetta came first. You take it as a shot twice daily. Bydureon is the newer, extended-release version, which you inject once a week. You can't take both drugs.

Who can take it: Adults with type 2 diabetes for whom other treatment hasn't worked. If you think you might get pregnant, talk to your doctor. Researchers haven't studied this drug in pregnant women.

What it does: Like other GLP-1 drugs, exenatide tells your pancreas to release insulin, which moves glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells. It also limits how much glucagon your body makes. This hormone prompts your liver to release stored sugar. The drug slows digestion, too.

Side effects: The most common ones include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, feeling jittery, dizziness, headache, acid stomach, constipation, and weakness. These usually go away after the first month of treatment. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which may be severe, is another side effect.

The FDA has also received reports of kidney failure in people taking this drug. All GLP-1 drugs, including both types of exenatide, have a boxed warning noting that in animal studies, this type of drug has been linked to thyroid cancer in some rats and mice. Experts don't know whether it has the same effect in people. It's possible you could get low blood sugar or have an allergic reaction to the drug.

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