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Information List for Type 2 Diabetes Medications

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: lrohner • updated: 12/10/2010

Find out more about drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetes with this type 2 diabetes medication information list. Learn how each class of medication works - and its side effects.

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    Some people with type 2 diabetes can lower their blood sugars by changing their diet, losing weight and exercising. Others need appropriate medications to help control their blood sugar levels.

    Fortunately, there are six classes of medications, other than insulin, that can help diabetics control their blood sugars. Here is a type 2 diabetes medication information list that includes these six classes of diabetes medications.

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    Type 2 Diabetes Medication Information List: Biguanides

    This class of diabetes medications has beneficial effects on blood sugar levels in two ways. The liver forms glucose from carbohydrates and amino acids when glucose is in short supply, and biguanide medications prevent this from happening. These medications also increase insulin sensitivity so less insulin is needed to transport glucose into cells. This lowers blood sugar levels and reduces stress on the pancreas.

    The most commonly used medications in this class are Glucophage and Glucophage-Extended Release. One advantage to using these medications is they don’t cause weight gain or hypoglycemia like most diabetes medications. They can cause stomach upset in some people and should never be used in anyone with kidney or liver disease.

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    Thiazolidinediones

    This class of diabetic medications includes Avandia and Actos. These drugs work by increasing insulin sensitivity so cells can use insulin more efficiently. Avandia is no longer commonly used after studies showed it increased the risk of heart attacks. Although Actos is still available, it, too, may be associated with a higher risk of heart problems. Side effects of this class of medications include weight gain, fluid retention and liver toxicity.

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    Sulfonylureas

    This class of type 2 diabetes medications has been used by doctors for a long time. Examples include Diabeta, Micronase, Glucotrol and Amaryl. They work by stimulating the beta-cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin, but they can also cause blood sugar levels to drop too low - and they’re associated with weight gain. Despite this, these drugs are still commonly prescribed, although they sometimes stop working after a period of time.

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    Alpha-Glucosidase Inhibitors

    This class of medications for diabetes treatment includes Precose and Glyset. These drugs work by reducing absorption of glucose by the intestines, which helps to lower blood sugar levels. Unlike the other diabetes medications, they don’t affect the pancreas. Not surprisingly, this class of medications causes stomach upset, diarrhea and flatulence, which makes it difficult for some people to tolerate.

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    Dipeptidyl Peptidase-4 Inhibitors

    This is a relatively new class of type 2 diabetes medications that work by blocking an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase. Dipeptidyl peptidase breaks down proteins involved in insulin release. By blocking this enzyme, it enhances the body’s natural release of insulin. The FDA has approved the dipeptidyl inhibitor, Januvia and Onglyza, but they shouldn’t be used in anyone who has kidney disease. They can cause headache and nasal congestion in some users.

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    GLP-1 Agonists

    This class of type 2 diabetes medications includes Byetta and Victoza. They work by lowering levels of a hormone called glucagon, which causes the liver to produce more glucose - and by enhancing insulin release, although they're less likely to cause hypoglycemia than the sulfonylureas. They also cause weight loss, which is beneficial for many type 2 diabetics. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and a sensation of abdominal fullness. They should be used with caution since it may increase the risk of a serious form of pancreatitis.

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    Type 2 Diabetes Medication Information List: The Bottom Line

    There are lots of prescription options for treating type 2 diabetes. Talk to your doctor about the one that’s right for you.

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    References

    Physician’s Desk Reference. 2011.

    Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd edition.