What types of medicines are used for type 2 diabetes?

Pills to treat type 2 diabetes have different types of actions including:

  • Stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin
  • Making the body more sensitive to the effects of insulin (decreasing insulin resistance)
  • Decreasing the body's production of sugar
  • Decreasing the amount of sugar that the body takes in from food

Sulfonylureas (glyburide [DiaBeta, Glynase, Micronase], glimepiride [Amaryl], glipizide, etc.) are the most common pills used for type 2 diabetes and work by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin. Starlix and Prandin also work by stimulating the pancreas but are very short-acting, so they are not usually used alone to treat type 2 diabetes. Metformin, another common diabetes pill, decreases the body's production of sugar and works especially well in patients who are overweight. Thiazolidinediones (Actos, Avandia) make the body more sensitive to insulin; these drugs only work for patients whose pancreas still makes some insulin, and they are usually used as a third choice after sulfonylureas and metformin. Glyset and Precose decrease the amount of sugar that the body takes in from food, but they tend not to work as well as other medications. They cause few side effects and do not usually cause low blood sugar, which makes them useful for elderly people.

Sometimes, those with type 2 diabetes require insulin injections, in addition to or instead of, pills.