Managing Side Effects of Oral Diabetes Medication – Weighing the Risks vs. Benefits

November 9, 2015 5:39 pm
Side Effect

Medications to treat diabetes have a come a long way. From the standard insulin injections first discovered by 1923 Nobel Prize winners Frederick G. Banting and John Macleod in Toronto[1], there exists a spectrum of slow-acting and fast-acting insulin injections, in addition to oral medications and prescriptions to treat complications of diabetes such as heart disease. The oral medications that have been developed work in several different ways – alone or in combination with insulin injections and other drugs – to lower your glucose levels. While many of these oral prescriptions available for treating diabetes are helpful in keeping your blood glucose in better range, they also have the potential for some unpleasant side effects.

As with any treatment that you seek to undergo or stop, it is crucial to weigh out the pros and cons of whether or not the medication side effects outweigh its benefits. This is a discussion best had with your medical care provider. Especially for people with Type 2 diabetes, oral medications offer a way to get effective treatment while avoiding or decreasing the amount of painful insulin jabs necessary. Many of the diabetes oral medications, like Glucotrol, work by stimulating the release of insulin, while other medications, like Metaformin, increase sensitivity to insulin and inhibit the release of glucose from the liver.[2]

The side effects range from more common issues like nausea, diarrhea, weight gain, and headaches to more serious complications such as urinary tract infections, heart attack, and kidney failure. Other complications, such as bloating and gas, are not life-threatening but can be uncomfortable or at times a source of embarrassment. One member of an online diabetes forum nicked-named her Metformin “Metfartin” to put a humorous twist on the side effect she experiences. To get a full list of oral medications for diabetes, along with their benefits and side effects, we recommend checking out the Oral Diabetes Medications Summary Chart by the Joslin Diabetes Center[3].

When starting any new medication, makes notes and record how you are feeling directly in your Dario app. Journaling how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally, is a helpful tool in noticing other changes in your body. Making notes can also assist you in understanding if the way you are feeling or the side effects you are experiencing are related to the medication you have started, something you are eating or drinking, or other activities.

What is key is that you discuss with your doctor all of your medication options. If you are experiencing any of the more serious symptoms of heart attack, infection, or kidney failure associated to your prescription contact your doctor or emergency medical services immediately. If less serious side effects such as nausea and upset stomach persist after the first few weeks of treatment with your oral medication, talk to your doctor about the possibility of switching to another type of medication or what the impact of stopping treatment with that prescription would be. Always know what your medication options are, because if there are alternatives that create fewer side effects, you have the right to live more comfortably while still receiving adequate care for your diabetes.

[1] “The Discovery of Insulin”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AM 2014. Web. 25 Aug 2015. http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/insulin/discovery-insulin.html

[2] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Diabetes Treatment: Medications for Type 2 Diabetes.  

[3] Joslin Diabetes Center (2015). Oral Diabetes Medications Summary Chart. – http://www.joslin.org/info/oral_diabetes_medications_summary_chart.html