In general, there are three basic groups of drugs for diabetes: oral medications, insulin, and other types of injectable medications. Within these groups, there are several different subgroups, or classes. Oral medications are used to treat people with type 2 diabetes. Perhaps the best known drug is insulin, which usually comes in the form of a shot. Everyone with type 1 diabetes needs to take insulin; some people with type 2 also need this drug.
Diabetes Drugs Explained
Several different drugs are available for the treatment of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The specific drug or combination of drugs that your healthcare provider recommends will be based on a number of factors, including:
- Your type of diabetes
- How well your diabetes is controlled
- Other diabetes drugs you have tried before
- Other medications you are taking
- Other medical conditions you have.
Generally, drugs for diabetes can be separated into a few different categories:
- Oral diabetes medications
- Other injectable medications.
Within each of these categories, there are several different classes of drugs; within each class, there are often several specific drugs. Some of these diabetes drugs are available only as a brand-name medication; others are available both as a brand-name medicine and as a generic.
Oral medications are used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Drugs in this category fall within one of several classes, which include:
- Thiazolidinediones (glitazones)
- Alpha glucosidase inhibitors
- Dipeptidyl peptidase inhibitors
- Ergot alkaloids
- Combination medications.
Sulfonylureas are medications that force the pancreas to make more insulin. Because of this, they are effective at controlling blood sugar, but are also more likely to cause dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Specific types of these diabetes drugs include:
- Chlorpropamide (Diabinese®)
- Glimepiride (Amaryl®)
- Glipizide (Glucotrol®)
- Glyburide (DiaBeta®, Micronase®, Glynase®)
- Tolazamide (Tolinase®)
- Tolbutamide (Orinase®).
Metformin (Glucophage®, Glucophage XR®, Glumetza™, Riomet®, Fortamet®) is the only biguanide drug currently available to treat diabetes. It works by helping the body use its natural insulin better. It also decreases sugar (glucose) production by the liver and decreases sugar absorption from the diet.