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Sulfonylurea Drugs - Medications that Help to Increase Insulin Production

Probably, the first thing you are advised to do when you happen to have Type 2 diabetes is life style changes. This includes changes in your diet and increasing your physical activity (as about 90 % of people with diabetes are obese). Exercises and healthy food habits will help lose weight, thus changing the way the body produces insulin and uses it (your pancreas may produce not enough of insulin or may use it not properly).  It is extremely important to control your weight, when you have Type 2 diabetes. If you can’t do it with the help of your diet and exercises, medical treatment should be used.

 Sulfonylureas are drugs, used for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Their work is based on

  • increasing insulin release in the pancreas, so your body gets the amount of insulin it needs into the blood stream (insulin is essential for turning the food you eat into energy)
  • helping insulin get into the cells, so it can work properly and decrease blood sugar level

The first-generation of these antidiabetic drugs include acetohexamide, chlorpropamide, tolbutamide and tolazamide. The second generation of sulfonylurea work more effectively with fewer side effects (glipizide, gliclazide, gliquidone, glyburide and glyclopyramide).The newest drug glimepiride belongs to the third-generation of sulfonylurea.

The dose of sulfonylurea drugs is different for each patient and depends on the strength of the medicine. Tablet should be swallowed with a glass of water (each day, even if you’re ill, vomiting or having any other disorders). Do not double doses, even if you forget to take your medicine). Be very careful with alcohol (as it may cause low blood sugar) and other medicines (such as aspirin, anticoagulants, cimetidine, corticosteroids, medicines for allergy, asthma, cold, etc.)

What you should know while taking sulfonylureas?

  • Sulfonylurea drugs do not help people with type 1 diabetes (they need insulin injections’ treatment).
  • Treatment with sulfonylurea drugs is combined with your personal diet plan and physical activity. Any changes in food you eat or in amount of exercise you do require additional testing of your blood sugar level and possible changes in dosing of your medications. If you smoke and decide to quit – tell your doctor, as your dose may need to be reduced.
  • On certain period of time you treatment is better to be changed on insulin instead of sulfonylureas (such as pregnancy, surgery, infection, etc.), as it is easier to control your level of blood sugar this way.
  • 10 to 20 % of people suffering from type 2 diabetes do not respond to sulfonylurea treatment, 5 to 10 % of other patients won’t respond to the treatment in next year.
  • Your doctor may change your medicine to another sulfonylurea, insulin injections or some other medications, as it may stop working, so you need permanent doctor’s supervision.
  • Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have some allergy or take some other medications (to exclude associated risks).
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On the other hand, some negative changes may occur while taking sulfonylureas. They may cause you to gain more weight, so it may be even harder for you to control your blood sugar level (common problem is extremely low levels - hypoglycemia). Sulfonylureas can also make you more sensitive to sunlight, so protect your skin.

Side effects of sulfonylureas besides hypoglycemia and weight gain include difficulty in concentrating, headache, nervousness (with cold sweat, pale skin and fast heartbeat), filling sick, trembling, weakness, trouble sleeping, changes in taste, heartburn, vomiting, frequent urination, stomach upset or constipation, gases . Among less common side effects the following may occur: convulsions, allergic reactions, chest pain, dark urine, light stools and blood when you’re coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath and some others. Different sulfonylureas may also cause some other side effects, not listed here.

Valentyna Ant.


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