Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Common Diabetes Drugs May Carry Risk

Patients taking sulfonylureas had a higher death risk than those on metformin, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Diabetes patients who take drugs called sulfonylureas as an initial therapy have a higher risk of death than those who take the diabetes drug metformin, a new study says.

The British researchers said the findings suggest that it may no longer be appropriate to offer sulfonylureas as a first-line treatment.

Diabetes experts in the United States agreed that the study could have an impact on care.

The findings "will change the practice of glucose [blood sugar]-lowering therapy," said Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

But he added that "more study is need to confirm this data," and use of the alternative drug, metformin, is not always the answer. "Metformin and other oral hypoglycemic agents have their drawbacks, and probably we will see earlier use of insulin in type 2 diabetics," Mezitis said.

Both metformin (brand names include Glucophage and Fortamet) and sulfonylureas (glyburide and glipizide) are commonly prescribed as first-line therapies for patients and have been available since the 1950s.

The new study was funded by drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb, which makes Glucophage.

Researchers analyzed data from thousands of people in the United Kingdom who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and began first-line blood sugar-lowering treatments between 2000 and 2012 and were followed for an average of three years.

Patients who took sulfonylureas only were 58 percent more likely to die from any cause than those who took metformin only, according to the study, which was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Barcelona, Spain.

The findings suggest "that treatment with first-line monotherapy [one-drug only] with sulfonylureas should be reconsidered," wrote a team led by Dr. Craig Currie of Cardiff University.

Another U.S. expert said sulfonylureas and metformin fight diabetes in different ways. Sulfonylureas work "by increasing insulin release from the beta cells in the pancreas," while metformin "acts by suppressing glucose production by the liver," explained Dr. Patricia Vuguin, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
Low
0-69
Normal
70-130
High
131+

Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Woman holding cake
Slideshow
feet
Slideshow
 
man organizing pills
Slideshow
Close up of eye
Slideshow
 

Woman serving fast food from window
Video
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Video
 
Middle aged person
Tool
are battery operated toothbrushes really better
Video
 

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Article
type 2 diabetes
Slideshow
 
food fitness planner
Tool
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture
Article