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Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and occurs when the human body can no longer produce normal amounts of insulin to move glucose (sugar) into cells. As a result of this, cells in the body can become insulin resistant, which means they can’t take in sugar. This sugar, or glucose, then builds up in the blood causing hyperglycemia.

Type 2 diabetes medication is prescribed to help control blood sugar levels in the blood. There are several types of oral diabetes medication, or diabetes pills. These pills are normally prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes in addition to a specific diet and exercise regimen. These medications can be taken alone or in combination therapy.

Each type 2 diabetes medication works differently to treat diabetes and each type of oral medication can sometimes lead to serious side effects. Types of oral type 2 diabetes medication classes include:

  • Thiazolidinediones: Actos (pioglitazone) and Avandia (rosiglitazone) are in this class of diabetes medication. These pills are meant to improve the effectiveness of insulin in both muscle and fat tissue cells. These types of pills are controversial because of the very serious and potentially fatal side effects associated with them.

    The FDA has restricted the use of Avandia due to a high risk of heart failure. Research has also shown that Actos is linked to bladder cancer. This deadly Actos side effect has prompted thousands of Actos bladder cancer lawsuits in the US and has led both France and Germany to pull the drug from their markets. All patients using Avandia or Actos should be educated in the potentially fatal risks associated with these medications.
  • Sulfonylureas: Drugs in this class include Glucotrol (glipizide), DiaBeta (glyburide), Micronase (glyburide), Glynase PresTab (glyburide), Amaryl (glimepiride), Dymelor (acetohexamide), Diabinese (chlorpropamide), Orinase (tolbutamide) and Tolinase (tolazamide). These pills stimulate the pancreas to release more insulin in order to regulate blood sugar. Common side effects associated with this class of diabetes drugs include sudden hypoglycemia, birth defects (pregnant and nursing women should not take these drugs), weight gain and excessive water retention.
  • Biguanides: Generic diabetes pill metformin (which is sold with the brand names Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Riomet, Fortamet, and Glumetza) is a Biguianide. These diabetes pills make it easier for the body’s cells to take in insulin while preventing the liver from releasing stored glucose. Biguanides have been associated with both brand-name and generic drug side effects that include lactic acidosis (a serious condition where the body produces excessive lactic acid which can lead to coma and death) and digestive tract problems (nausea and diarrhea).
  • Meglitinides: Prandin (repaglinide) and Starlix (nateglinide) are meglitinides. These drugs stimulate cells in the pancreas to release insulin, preventing a rise in blood sugar levels. Side effects associated with meglitinides include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), upper respiratory infections, nausea and weight gain.
  • Dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) inhibitors: Drugs in this class include Januvia (sitagliptin), Onglyza (saxagliptin), and Tradjenta (linagliptin). These diabetes pills work by increasing insulin secretion from the pancreas to lower blood sugar. They also control glucose levels by inhibiting the liver from producing excess amounts of sugar. Common adverse effects associated with these pills include headache, nausea and skin reactions.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is important to educate yourself about the varying types of medications available to treat the chronic condition. It is important to weight the benefits and risks associated with each diabetes drug and consult with your doctor about what type 2 diabetes medication is best for you.