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Pamphlet by: American Diabetes Association

Oral medications and type II diabetes

Oral medications and type II diabetes

What are oral medications?

Oral medications–also called oral agents–are pills that lower blood sugar. Only people with non-insulin-dependent (type II) diabetes can benefit from oral agents. People with insulin-dependent (type I) diabetes will NOT benefit from these medications.

Oral agents don’t work for everyone with type II diabetes. The pills work poorly in very thin people. For some people, the pills may lower blood sugar a little, but this may not be enough. And oral agents sometimes quit working after a period of months or years.

Pregnant women should not take oral diabetes pills.

Oral agents are part of a diabetes treatment plan that should also include proper meal planning and exercise. Taking oral agents alone will not cure type II diabetes.

Are oral medications safe?

Like other drugs, you need to use oral agents carefully. Some people may have reactions, such as skin rashes and an upset stomach. The skin may flush (become red) while drinking alcohol. Always report any changes, such as allergic reactions, to your health-care professional.

Sometimes, people who are older, eat poorly, or have liver or kidney disease may have serious low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) from taking oral medications. Such a reaction is dangerous and demands emergency medical treatment.

Oral agents don’t mix well with certain other medications. Aspirin, allergy pills, and cold remedies may have bad effects when combined with your oral agents. So, if you are taking oral agents, avoid non-prescription medicines that carry the warning: “Not to be taken by persons who have diabetes.” Some other drugs also don’t mix well with oral agents. They include: sulfa drugs, some drugs for arthritis, and some drugs for high blood pressure.

Always tell your health-care professional what medicines you are taking. And don’t mix alcohol and oral agents. The two together may raise or lower your blood sugar.

Generally, oral medications are safe–if used correctly. Follow the advice of your health-care practitioner. Do not stop taking the medication on your own. Get medical advice first.

Are there are different kinds of oral medications?

Yes. There are six different kinds of oral agents. Your health-care professional will decide which is best for you. He or she will most likely start you off on a low dose. Testing your blood-sugar level will help you and your health-care practitioner make changes in your dosage.

Do some people need to switch to insulin injections?

Even with diet and exercise, oral agents may not be enough to control type II diabetes. If you are having a difficult time controlling blood sugars, your health-care practitioner may switch you to insulin injections. The decision to switch to insulin should only be made by your health-care practitioner. He or she will teach you the proper way to inject insulin.

If you have a severe illness or have an operation, your health-care practitioner may recommend that you have insulin by injection. Most likely, this will be for a short time only.

For more information

Call us at 1-800-ADA-DISC for your free publications catalog. Also ask about ADA’s free quarterly newsletter for people with diabetes.

COPYRIGHT 1990 American Diabetes Association

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