Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes in adults and children who are at least 10 years old. The drug works by decreasing the amount of sugar made by the liver, decreasing the amount of sugar absorbed into the body, and helping the body respond better to insulin. At this time, there are several off-label metformin uses, including the treatment of gestational diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and HIV lipodystrophy.
Metformin (Glucophage®) and long-acting metformin ER (Glucophage XR®) are licensed to treat type 2 diabetes. The drugs are intended to be used together with diet and exercise to control blood sugar (see Healthy Eating for Diabetics).
Using Metformin for Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes (see Diabetes Types). It is also sometimes called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a condition involving insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, the cells of the body do not respond to insulin as well as they normally should. As a result, the cells of the body do not remove sugar from the blood very well. This is why type 2 diabetics have high blood sugar.
Over time, high blood sugar can lead to a number of problems, including diabetic impotence, diabetic neuropathy, kidney failure, and heart disease (see Diabetes Complications). The cause of type 2 diabetes is not fully understood, although it is known that obesity and genetics play an important role.
There are many ways to treat high blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Some diabetes medications force the pancreas to produce more insulin (see Alternatives to Metformin). These medications are effective, but can cause dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Metformin works differently, having several effects in the body. The drug lowers blood sugar by the following actions:
- Decreasing the amount of sugar (glucose) made by the liver
- Decreasing the amount of sugar absorbed into the body (from food)
- Making insulin receptors more sensitive, helping the body respond better to insulin.
Because metformin does not force the pancreas to produce more insulin, it is much less likely to cause dangerously low blood sugar levels compared to many other diabetes medications (see Metformin and Blood Sugar).