Metformin and Diabetes

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I became curious about Metformin and Diabetes when I noticed it was one of the medications my mother was taking to help manage her Type 2 Diabetes.

As a former health care worker, I understand the necessity of educating patients about the medications they are taking.

If a person understands how a medication works and why it is necessary they are much more likely to take it as prescribed and as a result, the medication will be able to work as it should improving not only their health but sometimes even their quality of life too.

When I worked in the nursing home I was aware of several type 2 diabetic residents who have been prescribed metformin and once I discovered my mother was also taking it I determined to learn what it is and how it works within the body.

More recently with our grandson being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I wondered if he would also be prescribed Metformin.

So let’s just get right to it.

What is Metformin

Metformin is often sold under the trade names Glucophage, Fortamet, Glumtza, and Riomet and is designed to inhibit the production of glucose in the liver.

Metformin is a commonly prescribed drug used as part of a treatment plan for Type 2 Diabetes. It is often the first medication people with type 2 are prescribed.

Metformin is designed to help lower blood glucose levels by reducing the amount of glucose the liver produces and releases. It also helps improve the body’s insulin sensitivity.

In people with pre-diabetes, the use of Metformin may help prevent type 2 diabetes from developing because it increases insulin sensitivity while lowering the blood glucose levels.

While pre-diabetes is not considered a true medical condition, the fact remains it is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. It is your body warning you that unless you make some lifestyle changes you will likely go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

Take control now and follow your doctor’s advice and take any medications prescribed as directed.

Metformin and Type 2 Diabetes

Many people successfully manage their type 2 diabetes with diet and exercise. Upon diagnosis, you will likely work closely with your doctor and a dietitian to help you devise a specific diet and exercise program that can work alone or in combination with medications.

To work properly, the dosage of metformin must be balanced with the amount and type of food you eat as well as the amount of exercise you get regularly.

Whether taking Metformin or any other medication, you will need to regularly test your blood glucose levels.

Your diabetes care team will teach you how to treat hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia should they occur.

Metformin and Type 1 Diabetes

Metformin and Diabetes - Novolog

Currently, it is believed that Metformin does not help insulin-dependent or Type 1 Diabetes.

This is because a type 1 diabetics pancreas is unable to produce any insulin.

Because they can’t produce any insulin they must control their blood glucose levels by regularly injecting insulin, usually after a meal.

However, a  2018 study of 29 type 1 participants on insulin alone and 29 type 1 participants taking insulin plus Metformin showed promising results. Metformin decreased glucose concentrations, reduced metabolic syndrome, as well as insulin dose requirement more than insulin therapy alone, 1 year after treatment.

I am sure more studies will be done.

Common Side Effects of Metformin

Similar to other medications there may be some side effects when you start taking Metformin, and these may diminish over time.Metformin and Diabetes - pants too big

Common side effects may include:

  • heartburn
  • stomach pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • weight loss
  • headache
  • unpleasant, metallic taste in the mouth

The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and these typically occur when beginning the medication. These effects typically disappear over time.

It may help if you take the medication with a meal so it is less irritating on the stomach.

More Serious Side Effects of Metformin

More serious side effects that require seeing your doctor would include:

Lactic Acidosis – this is a rare but serious problem that can appear because of a build-up of metformin in the body. This requires treatment in the hospital. Call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • extreme tiredness
  • weakness
  • decreased appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • trouble breathing
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • a fast or slow heart rate
  • feeling cold
  • muscle pain
  • flushing or sudden reddening and warmth in your skin
  • stomach pain with any of these other symptoms

Anemia – It seems that Metformin can decrease your levels of vitamin B-12 or calcium which can cause anemia (low levels of red blood cells). Taking a B-12 supplement may help. Discuss this with your doctor. Symptoms may include:

  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness

If you think you may have anemia get your doctor to test your red blood cells.Metformin and Diabetes - hamburger and fries

Hypoglycemia – Typically Metformin does not cause hypoglycemia on its own however it may occur in combination with any of the following:

  • poor diet
  • strenuous exercise
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • other diabetes medications

To help prevent hypoglycemia from occurring:

  • take medications on time
  • eat a well-balanced diet
  • get regular exercise as set forth by your doctor
  • be honest with your doctor about all medications or supplements you take whether prescribed or not

Be sure to call your doctor if you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia:

  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • abnormally fast or slow heart rate

PrecautionsMetformin and Diabetes - doctor

Several factors may increase the risk of lactic acidosis when taking Metformin and they should be discussed with your doctor. These include:

  • kidney problems, your body depends on your kidney’s ability to eliminate Metformin from the body keeping levels in a safe range. If the kidneys don’t function properly Metformin levels can increase to a dangerous level
  • heart problems, you should NOT take Metformin if you have acute heart failure or have recently suffered a heart attack. Heart disease could make your heart not send enough blood to the kidneys preventing them from working properly and eliminating Metformin from the body.
  • liver problems, since your liver clears lactic acid from the body you should NOT take Metformin if you have severe liver problems
  • alcohol use while taking Metformin increases the risk of hypoglycemia. This includes both long term alcohol use and binge drinking. Before drinking alcohol talk with your doctor about how much alcohol is safe while taking Metformin.
  • surgical or radiologic procedures that use iodine contrast, you should stop taking Metformin 48 hours before the procedure. These procedures can slow the process of the liver and kidney eliminating the excess Metformin in the body.

Final Thoughts

Until recently I did not fully understand Metformin and Diabetes.

I sincerely hope this article helps clarify when Metformin is typically used and how it can be a beneficial part of your diabetes treatment plan.

While it is still not an effective tool in the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes, some studies are showing encouraging results.

It is a beneficial and widely used part of treating both pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Be prepared for some unpleasant side effects when getting started but these should ease in time.

Be sure to contact your doctor or emergency room if you develop symptoms of more serious effects.

Always follow your treatment plan as forth by your doctor.

Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise will go a long way towards managing or even reversing your type 2 diabetes.

“I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.”

Thanks so much for dropping by. If you have experience taking Metformin please feel free to share your experience in the comment section below. I will respond. Take care.

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2 thoughts on “Metformin and Diabetes”

  1. Thank you for this informative article! My dad was prescribed Metformin for pre diabetes symptoms but he doesn’t want to take it, so he’s been adjusting his daily diet and exercise. We’ll see at his next doctor visit with lab test results if any positive changes were made without the medication. Will share with my dad your site – you have many interesting articles that may interest him.

    • Thanks for the great comment Dana. I totally understand your Dad’s reluctance to take the Metformin. Personally I prefer to research prescribed meds and learn all I can about possible side affects and ensure it is absolutely necessary before putting any unknown substance into my body. Exercise and a healthy diet can really help prevent prediabetes from progressing on to type 2 diabetes. It may be helpful for him to check out my article about prediabetes and my article on the Mediterranean diet. Both of these should be able to help him out. I wish your Dad the best of luck on his next appointment. Take care.


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