diabetes medications; pill box spelling out diabetes over green background

Different Diabetes Medications and What They Do

Diabetes is a chronic illness that typically requires medication and lifelong management. There are many different diabetes medications on the market, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you and your doctor to find one that’s right for you. Here’s a list of common diabetes medications, how they work, and possible side effects.

Type 1 diabetes medications

  • Insulin. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will probably need to take some form of insulin. Insulin is sorted into categories based on how quickly it works and how long it lasts. Some options are short-acting, rapid-acting, intermediate-acting, long-acting, and a combination. Insulin is usually administered through injection, but there are pill forms available as well.
  • Amylinomimetic. Sometimes doctors prescribe an amylinomimetic medication (like Pramlintide or SymlinPen) to work in conjunction with insulin. This type of medication delays how long it takes for your stomach to empty and reduces glucagon secretion after meals which lowers blood sugar. Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, tiredness, and upset stomach.different diabetes medications infographic

Type 2 diabetes medications

  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. These diabetes medications help your body break down starchy foods and table sugar, and should be taken before meals to lower your post-meal blood sugar.
    • Common medications: Precose, Glyset, and Acarbose
    • Possible side effects: bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and flatulence
  • Biguanides. These medications decrease how much sugar the liver makes and increases cells’ sensitivity to insulin, helping you absorb and process glucose more effectively. Users who take this kind of medication are unlikely to experience hypoglycemia and weight gain.
    • Common medication: metformin
    • Possible side effects: tiredness, weakness, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting
  • DPP-4 inhibitors. This type of medication will likely be prescribed to you if you don’t respond well to metformin. These medications work by protecting a group of gastrointestinal hormones called incretins, which stimulate the production of insulin. These medications may promote weight loss, but be warned: they do come with an increased risk of pancreatitis.
    • Common medications: Januvia, Galvus, Onglyza, and Tradjenta
    • Possible side effects: gastrointestinal problems like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain, flu-like symptoms, and skin reactions
  • Meglitinides. This type of medication helps your body release insulin to convert sugar into energy. It helps lower blood sugar levels, but it can also lower blood sugar too much resulting in hypoglycemia.
    • Common medications: Starlix, Pradin, and Prandiment
    • Possible side effects: hypoglycemia, weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, upper respiratory infection, and back pain
  • Sodium glucose transporter (SGLT) 2 inhibitors. These medications prevent the kidneys from holding on to glucose, allowing it to be released through the urine instead of building up in the blood stream.
    • Common medications: Forxiga, Invokana, and Jardiance
    • Possible side effects: kidney failure, hyperkalemia, hypotension, ketoacidosis, increased cholesterol, urinary tract infection, and allergic reactions
  • Sulonylureas. These medications are among the oldest diabetes drugs on the market. They stimulate the beta cells within the pancreas and encourage them to make more insulin.
    • Common medications: Amaryl, Duetact, Avandaryl, Glucotrol, Metaglip, Glucovance, Diabinese, Tolinase, and Orinase
    • Possible side effects: hypoglycemia, weight gain, skin rash, and upset stomach
  • Thiazolidinediones. These medications decrease glucose in the liver and help fat cells use insulin more effectively. However, they do come with increased risk of heart disease.
    • Common medications: Avandia and Actos
    • Possible side effects: water retention, weight gain, eyesight problems, reduced sense of touch, chest pain, and allergic skin reaction

If you’re prescribed a medication to help manage your diabetes, your doctor may prescribe you other medications to take alongside it, like aspirin for heart health or drugs to help with high cholesterol or blood pressure.

It would be wise to keep a journal for your diabetes medications, logging what you take, when you take it, what side effects you may have, and how it makes you feel so you and your doctor can make sure you’re taking the right medication.