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Antidiabetic drugs

Antidiabetic drugs are prescribed to treat both types of diabetes (types 1 and 2). They come in various forms and help to control and stabilise blood glucose levels. 

  1. Treat type 1 and 2 diabetes.
  2. Available in many forms, including tablets and injections.
  3. Blood glucose levels will need to be measured regularly.

If you are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing related to diabetes, you can speak with one of our registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. Our clinicians are available from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. 

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Product information

What are antidiabetic drugs? 

Antidiabetic drugs are medications that are prescribed to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Each drug is designed to treat one or the other form of the condition, with tablets and injections available. Type 1 diabetes requires daily injections of insulin, while people with type 2 diabetes may be able to manage their condition with lifestyle changes.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body stops secreting the hormone insulin (produced in the pancreas), which regulates blood glucose levels in the body. It is not linked to being overweight, (as is the case with type 2) and cannot be fully controlled with lifestyle changes. 

What symptoms does type 1 diabetes cause?

Symptoms of type one diabetes include unusual thirst, fatigue, needing to urinate frequently, weight loss, recurring thrush, wounds that do not heal easily and blurred vision. Symptoms tend to come on suddenly, and this is even more pronounced in children. Getting tested for type one diabetes requires a simple urine or blood glucose test, which can be done at your local GP surgery. Should it be suspected that diabetes is the cause of your symptoms, you will likely be sent to your local hospital for further blood tests, the results of which are made available the same day.

What you can do to help treat type 1 diabetes 

Type one diabetes requires regular testing of your blood glucose levels, which should be done before meals, two to three hours after meals, before and after exercise, and/or before bed. You can check your blood glucose levels using a blood glucose test kit, which requires a small pin prick. You will need to take insulin daily, and there are different forms of it to help stabilise glucose in the body. Basal insulin should be taken once or twice a day, and should keep your levels stable throughout the day; it is not related to food intake. Bolus insulin however is taken before meals which contain carbohydrate, and helps to prevent spikes in blood glucose levels. 

How is type 1 diabetes managed?

One of the most effective ways of managing the condition is counting carbohydrates in foods like potatoes, rice, bread and pasta, as well as fruits and honey. This can help you match your insulin dosage with the amount of carbohydrate in these foods. While this takes some practice, there are NHS courses that can help. 

It is safe to drink alcohol within reason in most cases, but drinking too much can lead to hypoglycaemia up to 24 hours later, so it is important to assess the risks involved. Hypoglycaemia is when blood sugar levels are too low in the body, and can lead to symptoms including trembling, anxiety, mood swings, becoming pale, palpitations, visual impairment, headaches and a loss of concentration. You can avoid this during and after alcohol consumption by eating a meal with carbohydrates before drinking, checking your glucose levels before you go to bed, and drinking plenty of water. There are numerous support groups, both online and face to face, that provide help for people with the condition. 

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a common condition in the UK, and is also caused by elevated levels of blood glucose in the body. Unlike type 1 diabetes, however, it is linked to lifestyle choices, and as a result can be controlled by making changes to your lifestyle. Symptoms include frequent urination, extreme thirst, blurred vision, frequent yeast infections, irritated genitals, slow healing of cuts and grazes and weight loss. 

Who gets type 2 diabetes?

The most common risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are age (being over 40), having a South Asian, Caribbean, Chinese or African ethnic background, having relatives with the condition, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle. A diagnosis can be made at your local GP surgery via a blood or urine test, and results can take up to 48 hours to process. If your result is positive, your GP practice will contact you about making a further appointment, so that the results and the implications of the condition can be discussed.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

Treatment for type 2 diabetes usually consists of a mixture of lifestyle changes and medications. Following a more balanced diet is central to treatment, and reducing your intake of sugar and starchy foods, as well as avoiding skipping meals, can help. Exercise is also an important part of managing the condition, with a minimum of two and a half hours a week recommended. This can help to regulate your weight too. 

Exercise doesn’t need to be overly strenuous in order for you to benefit from it; walking up and down stairs, strenuous housework and walking at pace all suffice. Managing your weight is key, but if you are looking to lose weight, you should do this slowly and steadily.

What treatment is available for type 2 diabetes?

Medication for type 2 diabetes is important, and stabilising your blood sugar levels can be challenging to begin with. Because the condition tends to progress over time, you will likely need to increase your dosage accordingly to manage your symptoms. 

Insulin is rarely used to treat type 2 diabetes in its early years; instead, a medication called metformin is usually prescribed. If this doesn’t help to control your blood glucose levels within three months, another treatment may be explored with you.

Regular check-ups are vital for monitoring the condition; this includes checking your feet for ulcers and infections, damage to your eyes, your kidneys, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. You will also need to have your heart checked regularly due to the heightened risks involved with type 2 diabetes. The condition may also lead to strokes, sexual impotency, blindness, nerve damage and miscarriages. 

There are many support groups and courses available to help you manage the symptoms and stresses that are associated with the condition.

If you would like to discuss diabetes and its symptoms, you can speak with one of our GMC- registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. Our clinicians are available from 9.30am until 4.30pm, five days a week. They can also offer fit notes and referral to specialists for treatment, where suitable. 

Page last reviewed:  19/06/2020
Side effects and warnings

What side effects do antidiabetic drugs cause?

There are many medications for diabetes available, and the side effects listed below may not apply to your treatment. If you have any concerns, you should speak to your clinician, and carefully read the patient leaflet that comes with your medication. The following side effects are related to insulin based treatments:

Common side effects (may affect up to 1 in 10 people): irritation or allergic reactions where injection occurred, intense pain when injecting, itching, hives, swelling or inflammation. 

Rare side effects (may affect up to 1 in 1,000 people): visual issues and swelling in the legs and ankles.

Very rare side-effects (may affect up to 1 in 10,000 people): dysgeusia and myalgia.

Is it safe to take insulin alongside other treatments? 

It’s important that you inform your doctor about any other medications you are currently using before taking insulin. Issues may be of particular note with the following: other diabetes treatments, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, disopyramide, fluoxetine, fibrates, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), pentoxifylline, propoxyphene, salicylates, sulfonamide antibiotics, corticosteroids, danazol, diazoxide, diuretics, glucagon, isoniazid, oestrogens, progestogens, phenothiazine derivatives, somatropin, epinephrine, salbutamol, terbutaline, thyroid hormones, clozapine, olanzapine and protease inhibitors, beta-blockers, clonidine, lithium salts, pentamidine, beta-blockers, clonidine, guanethidine and reserpine.

Can taking insulin lead to an allergic reaction?

If you experience any of the following after taking insulin you should seek immediate medical assistance as it may be signs of an allergic reaction: Skin reactions, severe swelling of skin or mucous membranes, shortness of breath, low blood pressure with a rapid heartbeat and sweating.

Can I use antidiabetic drugs if I’m pregnant?

Insulin may need to be adjusted when you are pregnant or following giving birth. Whilst breastfeeding, you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are taking a suitable dosage.

Page last reviewed:  19/06/2020
Questions and Answers

Will antidiabetic drugs affect my ability to drive?

Due to low or high blood glucose levels associated with the condition, you should always be aware of the risks of driving with diabetes.

Can I consume alcohol whilst using antidiabetic drugs?

This will depend on the medication in question, but it is important to note that alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to become elevated or fall too low during or after consumption. 

Can I buy antidiabetic drugs over the counter? 

No. Antidiabetics are available via prescription only.  

How can I buy antidiabetic drugs online?

You can make an appointment with one of our GPhC-registered clinicians to discuss diabetes using our online video consultation service. They are available from 9.30am-4.30pm, five days a week. Our clinicians can also provide fit notes and referral to specialists for treatment, where appropriate. 

Page last reviewed:  19/06/2020

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