Metformin is the most widely-prescribed drug for diabetes. Over 120 million people around the world have been prescribed metformin.
How metformin works
The drug, also known as glucophage, helps people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. It does this by inhibiting glucose production in the liver, and reducing the amount of sugar that the body makes and absorbs.
In addition, metformin increases insulin sensitivity. The drug works best as part of a larger health regimen in which the person follows a healthy eating plan and gets regular exercise.
An affordable choice that’s covered by Medicare and other insurance, metformin is easy on the body’s organs, and for most people causes little side effects. So why do many people stop taking it?
Reasons people stop taking metformin
- It can take time for it to improve your blood sugar. Often, it takes a few days to start working. Many doctors prescribe a lower dose at first and then move gradually up, so it naturally won’t be as potent at first.
- It can cause loose bowels, gas, and nausea. Taking extended release metformin and managing your carb intake can help alleviate these side effects.
- Can increase the risk of episodes of hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar, especially in cases of excessive drinking, taking insulin, or taking sulfonylureas.
- Can cause anemia. Adding a daily vitamin B12 to your regimen can help with this.
- Can cause “faux lows” where you feel like you are experiencing a low, but you are not. These happen mostly when first starting metformin. In this case, check your blood sugar, and if the low is not real, drink some water and eat a healthy, low-carb snack such as nuts.
- It has a fishy odor. Switching to the extended release version of metformin might produce less odor and less of a nauseous feeling associated with it.
- It can cause lactic acidosis. This happens very rarely when lactic acid builds up in the blood because of taking too much metformin, kidney problems, heart failure, or liver problems.
Other conditions metformin may treat
Metformin has of late been called a wonder drug, and could possibly be used to treat conditions other than diabetes, such as:
- Neurodegenerative conditions
- Macular degeneration
- Gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
When you shouldn’t take metformin
That being said, there are some cases in which you should NOT take metformin:
- If you have kidney or liver issues
- If you have had a heart attack or acute heart failure
- If you drink alcohol often or in large quantities
When starting on metformin, begin with a small dose and gradually move up to avoid gastric issues. Always take it with food. While metformin is generally known as a safe and very effective drug, consult your doctor with any problems that might arise when taking metformin.