Metformin, brand name Glucophage
You may be taking or considering metformin if you have Type II diabetes, “prediabetes,” or, though the scientific evidence for its use isn’t so solid, polycystic ovary syndrome.
Metformin works in several ways. It helps certain parts of the body respond properly to insulin, reduces how much glucose is released into the bloodstream, and does a few other things.
Most of what we know about Metformin is good. It doesn’t seem to cause weight gain, and in fact, may cause slight weight loss. It’s affordable. And it has 4 decades of use, meaning we know a lot more about it than many other medications.
One study showed that use of metformin over several years reduced mortality – or death -rates related to diabetes by an impressive 36%.
Side effects of metformin
Metformin’s side effects are mostly mild and treatable, though there is a the rare chance of a problem called lactic acidosis. About 30% of users experience some sort of side effect, including indigestion and diarrhea.
Taking metformin with a meal is one way to reduce problems, as well as taking an extended release version. The immediate release form has about a 17% rate of diarrhea, for instance, while the extended release has only about 8%.
Some have complained that metformin makes them smell bad.
Lactic acidosis is a very rare side effect that is fatal about 50% of the time. Estimates of how often it occurs range from 1/30,000 patient-years to a bit higher. But assuming you meet the criteria for using metformin, most likely you shouldn’t worry about it.
Most doctors strongly feel that the benefits of metformin outweigh the risks of lactic acidosis. As one doctor puts it, “Of 10,000 diabetic patients treated for 10 years with metformin, only 10 will die from lactic acidosis. [Based on a large study] of those 10,000 patients… metformin would [have prevented] 500 diabetes related deaths.”
Because of how effective metformin seems to be, some doctors argue for more aggressive use of the medication than is currently done.
Most common metformin side effects: nausea, metallic taste in mouth, some weight loss, vomiting and abdominal bloating. Cramping or a feeling of fullness is also fairly common.
Talk to your doctor: if you feel excessively weak, have heartbeat changes or irregularities, chest pain, or signs of an allergic reaction. Some people experience hypoglycemia, or too low blood sugar, on Metformin, which is also important to watch for. Signs include chills, weakness and dizziness.
You may need to stop use if you are going to get an X-ray or scan that involves injection of die into your body.
This list does not include everything; see manufacturer’s insert for more.
Metformin can cause Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies, so make sure to be eating a well balanced diet. Additionally, remember that the initial and ideal treatment for type II diabetes is exercise and improved diet.
And it’s important to take metformin as your doctor directs. It takes a while to start working and needs to be taken as recommended.
There are several conditions which mean you shouldn’t take metformin, like kidney problems. It’s possible that a significant amount of the lactic acidosis occurs in people who, according to the strict guidelines, shouldn’t have been taking the medication.
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