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​​​​​​Acarbose is a type of medication you might need to take if you have type 2 diabetes

What is acarbose?

Acarbose is the only medicine that belongs to a drug class called alpha glucosidase inhibitors. The brand name for acarbose is Glucobay. 

This medication is sometimes used to help people with type 2 diabetes when changes to diet, or other diabetes medications, have been unable to bring down blood sugar levels to their target range. 

You can take acarbose on its own or with other diabetes medications.

How does acarbose work?

Acarbose works by slowing down the digestion of starchy foods like potatoes, pasta and rice from the gut. This means that blood sugar levels rise more slowly after meals.  

How do I take acarbose?

Acarbose is a tablet which you swallow. It should be taken with a meal. Chew the tablet with your first mouthful of food or swallow it whole with water immediately before the meal.  

Always take this medication exactly as your healthcare professional has told you. The Patient Information Leaflet inside the box will tell you how to take it but always check with your healthcare team if you are not sure.  

Who can take acarbose?

Adults over the age of 18 years with type 2 diabetes can take Acarbose.

Who can't take acarbose?

Some medications might not be suitable for some people, which might be because of medical conditions or other reasons:    

  • Acarbose might not be suitable for you if you have a medical condition that affects how you absorb or digest food, or if you have inflammation or swelling of the bowel or a large hernia; 
  • If you have kidney disease or liver disease, then you might not be able to take acarbose; 
  • You may need to temporarily stop taking acarbose if you're going to have an operation; 
  • You should not take acarbose if you are pregnant of breastfeeding. If you’re planning a pregnancy speak with a healthcare professional if you are using this medication.    

When you start a new medication always check with your healthcare team that it’s suitable for you to take.  

Your prescription

Your healthcare team should explain your prescription to you but it's important to make sure you ask if you don't feel you know enough.   

And make sure you talk to your GP or your diabetes team if you struggle to take your medication. They might be able to help by giving you a different dose. 

In England, if you need to take any medication to manage your diabetes, your prescriptions will be free. Ask your healthcare team about a prescription exemption certificate if you don't have one, to make sure you don't get charged for your medication. Prescriptions are already free for everybody in the rest of the UK, so you shouldn't pay for your acarbose.  

Side effects of acarbose

Like all medications, acarbose can have side effects. But when side effects are listed as common in the Patient Information Leaflet, it doesn’t mean that everyone who takes the medication will get them.   

The information about side effects is based on the likelihood of people having them. For example, if a side effect is very common then it can affect more than one in ten people, and if a side effect is very rare then it affects fewer than one in 10,000 people.   

Because medicines can affect people differently, your healthcare team will speak to you about what’s best for you and discuss any side effects. 

Upset tummy or tummy pain

In the first two or three days of taking acarbose it is common to have flatulence, feel a rumbling in your stomach, or feeling full or cramps in the tummy. Some people also have diarrhoea and pain in the tummy.  

Let your healthcare team know if these side effects carry on for more than two or three days. Or if they are severe, or particularly if you have diarrhoea.

Risk of low blood sugar

Acarbose does not usually cause blood sugar levels to become too low, also known as hypoglycaemia or hypos, when taken on its own. However, hypos can happen when you take it with other diabetes medications such as insulin or a sulphonylurea. 

If you take acarbose and you have a typo, it should be treated with a type of sugar called glucose. This includes jelly babies, glucose tablets and glucose liquid.  

You should not treat a hypo with sucrose, which is a table sugar often added to processed foods and drinks. This is because acarbose slows down how quickly sugar like sucrose is digested which means that it would take longer to recover from a hypo.

These are not all the side effects. You will find a full list of known side effects in the Patient Information Leaflet. This comes in the medication box. 

It’s also important that you take individual advice from your healthcare team before starting acarbose treatment and report any side effects to your healthcare professionals, if you experience any.  

You can also report these side effects to the Yellow Card Scheme, which is the government system used for recording side effects with medicines in the UK.   

More information and support

Still have more questions? Or is there anything you're not sure about after reading this page? Contact our helpline on 0345 123 2399. 

You can visit the NHS website for more information on acarbose.   

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