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Three common diabetes drugs could boost chances of dying

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Not all inexpensive generic diabetes drugs are safe.

Diabetes drugs taken by mouth are generally considered safe. But a new review shows 3 common oral medications to treat the disease might boost the chances of dying by 50 percent.

Metformin safer than other diabetes drugs

In findings presented at The Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston, scientists presented evidence that the generic diabetes drug metformin is linked to a lower chance of mortality, compared to 3 other drugs that are known as sulfonylureas - glipizide, glyburide, and glimepiride.

Kevin M. Pantalone, D.O., an endocrinologist at Summa Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who conducted this study in collaboration with researchers from Cleveland Clinic said in a press release, "We have clearly demonstrated that metformin is associated with a substantial reduction in mortality risk, and, thus, should be the preferred first-line agent, if one has a choice between metformin and a sulfonylurea.”

For the study, researchers looked at electronic medical records of 23,915 patients with type 2 diabetes who had taken one of the four drugs in the past. Average age of people in the study was 62 and half of the participants were male.

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A subgroup of patients also included in the study had known heart disease with an average age was 68 and 69% were male. Both groups were followed for approximately 2 years.

Compared to metformin, all 3 of the commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drugs were linked to a 50% higher chance of death.

Among the patients with heart disease, glimiperide was the only drug that did not boost the chances of dying, compared to metformin. Glipizide was linked to a 41% higher chance of dying and glyburide was associated with a 38% boost in mortality.
"Since many patients with type 2 diabetes also have coronary artery disease, our results could potentially impact the care of a large number of patients," Pantalone said.

The take home message for patients with type 2 diabetes is that all drugs have side effects, but some have less risks than others, depending on your health condition. Pantalone suggests patients talk with their doctors about taking the safest medications, even if they are generic and inexpensive. The study shows 3 common drugs for diabetes could boost the chances of dying as much as 50%.

The Endocrine Society
June 24, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile