Womens Health

Pills That Can Lower Blood Sugar

Researchers are working hard to find new and improved therapies for diabetes and medications can become a crucial element in your treatment regimen. But knowing when you need to take oral medications in addition to or instead of insulin can be tricky. A great deal depends on how you feel. Your health care provider will take a good hard look at your symptoms and any complications you may be experiencing, as well as your blood glucose levels before deciding on the appropriate course of treatment for you.

Most doctors will start out treating patients with type 2 diabetes by teaching them how to plan their meals, encouraging them to lose weight, and starting them on a regular exercise plan. Sometimes these simple lifestyle changes are all that is necessary to bring blood glucose levels down to normal or near normal. But when these measures fail to do the trick, your doctor may decide to prescribe medications for lowering your blood glucose levels.

There are six classes of diabetes pills available in the United States at present and these all work in one way or another, to reduce blood glucose levels:





*Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors

*DPP-4 inhibitors

This article treats the first three types of these oral diabetes drugs: sulfonylureas, meglitinides, and biguanides.


Sulfonylureas have a stimulatory effect on the pancreas' beta cells causing them to release more insulin. Sulfonylurea pills have been in use for six decades. Diabinese (Chlorpropamide) is the only first-generation drug from this class that is still used today. The more recent types of sulfonylureas can be given in smaller doses than the earlier types. The three second-generation drugs from this class include: Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL (glipizide), Micronase, Glynase, and Diabeta (glyburide), and Amaryl (glimepiride). All of these drugs are taken once or twice a day, prior to meals. While all the sulfonylurea drugs have the same effect on blood glucose levels, they have different side effects, may be taken more or less often, and may interact in different ways with other medications.


Meglitinides also stimulate beta cells, prodding them release insulin. Prandin (repaglinide) and Starlix (nateglinide) are meglitinides. These are taken three times a day with each meal.

Both sulfonylureas and meglitinides can lead to hypoglycemia or low blood glucose levels. Also, some diabetes pills don't mix well with alcohol. Chlorpropamide and other drugs in the sulfonylureas may cause flushing, vomiting, or illness when taken in conjunction with alcohol. Make sure to ask your physician about these issues.


Glucophage (Metformin) is a biguanide. Drugs in this class lower blood glucose levels by cutting back the amount of glucose that is produced by the liver. Metformin also makes muscle tissue more receptive to insulin so that glucose is absorbed more easily. Metformin is usually taken twice daily. Some patients find they get diarrhea with this medication, but taking the drug with food tends to minimize this effect.

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