Side-Effects of Diabetes Medications
The side-effects of diabetes medications make many people hesitate. Is taking diabetes medication worth it if unpleasant and even dangerous side-effects threaten? Some people believe that type 2 diabetes medications are dangerous and shouldn’t be used if blood sugar doesn’t swing too high or low ("What Is Type 2 Diabetes? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment"). Dangers of these medications include their side-effects and interactions with other drugs and conditions. Let’s explore the side-effects of diabetes medications to discover what’s more harmful: medication side-effects or diabetes itself.
Side-Effects of Diabetes Medications
Many types of medications for type 2 diabetes exist. General classes you might hear of when working with your doctor are
- Thiazolidinediones (TZDs)
- SGL2 inhibitors
- DPP-4 inhibitors
Each group includes specific medications, and they do different things to keep blood sugar in control. Doctors prescribe certain medications based on what the individual patient needs. Your medication might work by helping your pancreas produce more insulin, decreasing the amount of sugar your body produces, helping your kidneys remove excess sugar from the blood, or boosting insulin function. They can be very beneficial, but like all medications, diabetes medications carry side-effects.
It’s important to note that each type of medication has unique side-effects, although effects do overlap considerably. The below list is general. Not every side-effect applies to every medication. This is meant to be an overview of things you might expect when taking medication for type 2 diabetes that can help you talk to your doctor about taking medication.
There are both short- and long-term side-effects of diabetes medication. They range from mild to very serious. Examples of long-term side effects of some diabetes medications include:
- Weight gain (which can be counter-productive, as overweight and obesity are culprits in type 2 diabetes)
- Periods of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Often called “hypos,” these dips in glucose can be dangerous, leading to disorientation, fainting, and possibly coma
Other serious side effects that you may encounter when taking diabetes medications:
- Increased risk for fractures
- Elevated risk of liver disease
- Higher risk of bladder cancer
- Increased ovulation and risk of pregnancy
- Fluid retention
- Interference in the absorption of vitamin B12
- Upper respiratory infections
Among the milder side-effects of diabetes medications:
- Minor physical discomforts
- Slight and short-lasting hypoglycemia
- Minor fluid retention
- Facial swelling
- Upset stomach
- Decreased appetite
- Skin rash
- Yeast infections
- Urinary tract infections
In addition to these side-effects of diabetes type 2 medications, there are health conditions that affect how diabetes medication works. Your medication might not work correctly or as well if you have:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- A heavy drinking problem
Side-effects of diabetes medications can involve interaction with other medication you may be taking. If you are being treated for any of the following conditions, diabetes medications can interfere:
- HIV/AIDS medications
- Diuretics to flush out excess fluids
- Nitrates for angina
- Medication for high blood pressure in lungs
Always disclose all medication you are taking to your doctor. That way, the two of you can discuss what is safe and what you should avoid.
Another important thing to discuss with your doctor is whether you should stop taking diabetes medications. Just as taking medication can cause undesirable effects, there could be side-effects of stopping diabetes medication, too.
Side-Effects of Not Taking Diabetes Medication
An important function of diabetes medication is to reduce the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. It’s logical that when someone stops taking diabetes medication, blood sugar climbs again. The resulting hyperglycemia can cause serious complications like nerve and blood vessel damage.
There are other results, too. Short-term effects of not taking diabetes medication include:
- Ketoacidosis (more common in type 1 diabetes, it can occur in type 2 as well; it occurs when the body breaks down fat for fuel, producing ketones that cause serious health conditions)
- Hyperosmolar syndrome (dangerously high blood sugar caused by dehydration)
Among the long-term effects of not taking diabetes medications:
- Vision problems
- Blood vessel damage/blood flow problems
- Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Necrosis (the process of tissue death, possibly resulting in amputations)
- Kidney disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Dental problems
Not taking diabetes medications can gradually destroy someone’s health. In comparing the side-effects of diabetes medications to the side-effects of not taking diabetes medication, you might find that the dangers of diabetes are worse than the dangers of diabetes medications.
Medication is too complex to be “right” or “wrong.” Medications are unique. People are individuals. The best approach is to talk openly with your doctor to develop the right treatment plan for you, one which balances proper diabetes management with drug side effects and interactions. It’s possible to find diabetes medications without major side-effects ("Complete List of Diabetes Medications for Type 1 and Type 2").
Peterson, T. (2022, January 4). Side-Effects of Diabetes Medications, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/medications/side-effects-of-diabetes-medications