Diabetes Treatment “Need To Know” – Metformin

In our second edition of our Diabetes Treatment “Need To Know” series, Roma, our expert pharmacist talks us through a very common diabetes medication  – metformin.

Why may a person with diabetes be prescribed metformin?

If you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, your doctor will initially advise you to make diet and lifestyle changes. This is to help lower your blood sugar levels; in other words, eating a healthy, balanced diet and increasing the amount of exercise you do.

Your blood sugar levels will then be monitored again after a few months and if they are still higher than the recommended levels, then you may need medication to help decrease your blood sugar levels. So, metformin is usually the first choice of medication that is prescribed for Type 2 diabetes if diet and lifestyle changes have been insufficient.

What should people expect to happen when they first start taking metformin?

To understand this, it would be helpful to look at how metformin actually works. Metformin helps to reduce the amount of sugar that your liver releases into the body and it also helps the body’s insulin work better. Both mechanisms result in a drop in blood sugar levels to a healthy level.

This means that if you have been experiencing any symptoms of diabetes, such as increased thirst and urination, feeling tired, or blurred vision, then these symptoms will resolve as you take metformin and your blood sugar levels are controlled. You may possibly experience some side effects – indigestion being the most common.

Is metformin known by any other name, and are there different types?

There are two types of metformin: standard-release and slow-release. Standard-release tablets will release metformin into your body straight away and it will work quickly. However, this means it will get used up quickly too, so you may have to take it several times a day. Slow-release tablets release metformin gradually into your body throughout the day so taking it once a day is usually sufficient.

A liquid form of metformin is also available for those who may not be able to swallow tablets.

Metformin can come as a standard generic medication, or it can be known by the following brands: Bolamyn, Diagment, Glucient, Glucophage, Metabet and Sukkarto.

What are your 3 top tips for people to ensure they take their metformin effectively?

Firstly, take your metformin with or after a meal. While this will help reduce any side effects, it is also a good way to remember to take medication. If you take it everyday with breakfast, then you will automatically reach out for your metformin every morning with your food.

Secondly, speak to your doctor if you experience any side effects, especially indigestion. They will be able to provide you with options to overcome this.

And thirdly, metformin can very rarely cause more serious side effects. Watch out for shortness of breath, muscle cramps or feeling extremely cold.

I’ve heard metformin can give you a bad stomach. Should I be worried?

Taking metformin with or after a meal greatly reduces the chances of a bad stomach, so try this first. Your doctor will also recommend slowly increasing your dose of metformin within the first few weeks depending on your blood sugar levels.

If you still get indigestion, speak to your doctor and they can consider switching you to a slow-release metformin. This formulation is known to have a significantly lower occurrence of indigestion.

If that doesn’t help, then your doctor may consider prescribing you an alternative diabetic medication to suit your needs. There are several solutions available, so don’t worry.

Thanks for lending us your expertise, Roma. Look out for our next edition, our “need to know” series covers diabetes treatments and medications.

At Spirit Pharmacy we’re here to help people live well with diabetes. We offer free NHS prescription delivery, expert support, plus a free Live Well With Diabetes welcome pack with your first delivery. 

Please note, this article is not intended to be individual healthcare advice. Always follow specific advice relating to your condition given to you by your doctor, pharmacist, diabetic nurse, or dietician.

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