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Tablets and medication

Diabetes medications

There are a number of different diabetes medications available, all of which work in different ways. Not all treatments are suitable for everyone, so don’t be disheartened if you find yourself needing to change or stop certain medications. Your GP or care team can help you find a medication that’s best for your individual needs. Type 2 diabetes treatment may be different from treatment for type 1 diabetes. Here are some of the medications that you might take.

Metformin

  • Type 2 diabetes treatment can involve medication. If you have type 2 diabetes, metformin is usually the first diabetes medication your doctor will prescribe if lifestyle changes alone, like a healthy diet and physical activity, are not enough to manage your blood sugar levels.

  • Metformin belongs to a family of diabetes drugs called biguanides.

Sulphonylureas

  • There are a number of different tablets in this family. They work mainly by stimulating the cells in the pancreas to make more insulin. They also help insulin to work more effectively in the body.

Acarbose (Glucobay®)

  • This tablet belongs to a family of medication called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. This tablet slows down starchy food absorption after a meal. This means your blood sugar levels won't rise as fast. 

Repaglinide (Prandin®) and nateglinide (Starlix®)

  • These tablets belong to a family of medications called prandial glucose regulators. You take these medications about half an hour before meals, up to three times a day. They are similar to sulphonylureas, but work faster to stimulate insulin production and don’t last long.

  • If you miss a meal, don’t take them. They could cause low blood sugar levels, also called hypoglycaemia.

Pioglitazone (Actos®)

  • They belong to a family of medication called thiazolidinediones or glitazones. These tablets help your body use natural insulin better and protect the cells in the pancreas so you can produce insulin for longer. Usually taken once or twice a day with or without food. 

Incretin mimetics (such as Byetta®, Bydureon® and Victoza®)

  • They are part of a family of medication called GLP-1 analogues (incretin mimetics). This injection increases hormones called 'incretins', which help you make more insulin, reduce the amount of sugar the liver produces and slow digestion speed. They also reduce appetite.

  • You may have a daily injection, twice daily or once weekly. There are different brands available.

DPP-4 inhibitors (gliptins)

  • DPP-4 inhibitors work by blocking the action of DPP-4, an enzyme that destroys the hormone, incretin.

  • There are lots of different brands available including Januvia®, Janumet and® Galvus.®

SGLT2 inhibitors

  • This medication reduces the amount of sugar your kidneys absorb and passes it out in the urine, meaning there's less in your blood.
  • You will take the tablets once a day, with or without food. Your urine will test positive for sugar because of the way they work.
  • Brands include Forxiga ®, Invokana ® Jardiance ®, Steglatro®.

Statins

  • This medication helps you lower your bad cholesterol. Statins are a commonly used medication and are often prescribed for people with diabetes to help them manage their condition. This is because having diabetes increases the risk of heart diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. 

Side effects

Diabetes medications are safe but like many other medications they may have side effects or interact with other medications you’re taking.  

Because medicines can affect you in different ways, your healthcare team will speak to you about what's best and discuss any side effects. If you need more information, you could also speak to a pharmacist or check the patient information leaflet that comes with the medication.  

As well as helping to manage blood sugar levels, some of these medications may have other benefits like protecting your heart or kidneys or helping with weight loss. Ask your healthcare team why they are prescribing you a certain medication. 

Side effects will depend on the type of diabetes medication you are taking, but they could include:

  • hypos
  • weight loss or weight gain 
  • bloating and diarrhoea
  • feeling sick

You should always check the patient information leaflet supplied with your medication to see a more detailed list of the side effects you might experience. However, don’t be put off by the list as you may not experience any at all. 

If do you experience any severe side effects or reactions, make sure you seek medical attention straight away.

Is diabetes medication free on the NHS?

If you treat your type 2 diabetes with medication, you won’t need to pay for medications. In England, you'll need a medical exemption certificate to claim your free prescription unless you're 60 or over. 

Find out more about free prescriptions

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