June 28, 2011 (San Diego) -- Older people with type 2 diabetes who take an older class of oral diabetes drugs called sulfonylureas may have a higher risk of developing heart problems than those who take metformin.
In a two-year study of 8,502 people with type 2 diabetes aged 65 and older, 12.4% of those who started therapy with a sulfonylurea drug had a heart attack or other heart problem, compared with 10.4% of those who started with metformin.
Additionally, people taking sulfonylurea drugs experienced heart problems sooner after starting treatment than those taking metformin.
"The findings are important because older patients with diabetes are at particular risk for cardiovascular disease, and sulfonylureas continue to remain a commonly used medication in this population," says researcher Alex Z. Fu, PhD, an associate faculty member in the department of quantitative health sciences at the Cleveland Clinic.
Over the past two decades, many drugs have been approved to treat diabetes. The drugs improve blood sugar control, but there have also been concerns that some may raise the risk of cardiovascular events, especially in people who are already at high risk.
In 2007, Avandia was tied to heart risks, and the FDA recently announced that after Nov. 18 doctors will have to enroll patients in a special registry in order to receive the drug.
Metformin, which has been on the market since 1995, is usually recommended as a first-line treatment for diabetes because it is relatively safe and cheap, says David M. Kendall, MD, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.