Avandia and the FDA Hearings: Metformin Is Effective and Less Risky
It's a big day for Avandia, and the Health Central team is all over the FDA hearings considering whether the drug should be pulled from the market. But another very important piece of diabetes drug news today shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. In fact, it dovetails perfectly with the Avandia story.
Bottom line first
Metformin, a well-established, inexpensive drug used to control blood sugar in Type 2 diabetics, works just as well as other drugs on the market--with more benefits and less risk of side effects.
This study in 50 words
Researchers analyzed over 200 previous studies on 10 widely used diabetes drugs. Findings: Metformin (aka Glucophage, Riomet and Fortamet) lowered blood sugar as well as newer drugs--plus it lowered LDL cholesterol and was less likely to cause weight gain.
Yes, but. . .
The research could not make conclusions about the most critical clinical outcomes--such as death and serious heart disease. It could only report on blood sugar control, other current health measures and reported side effects.
Metformin users had more digestive side effects, including diahrrhea, than those who took other drugs.
Like all dibetes drugs studied, metformin carries a risk of a buildup of lactic acid, which can be serious. These drugs are therefore usually not recommended for those with kidney disease and certain heart conditions. [See the drug's profile here.]
This analysis didn't look at insulin, another commonly used drug for Type 2 diabetes, with or without other meds.
So what are you going to do about it?
Many physicians and public health experts recommend patients taking Avandia (or Actos, another version of that drug) talk to their doctors about which medications are right for them.
This study may provide useful additional information about drug options, especially for people who pay a big part of their drug costs. A year of metformin treatment costs about $100; many newer drugs cost four times more.
Read this overview many types of diabetes drugs on our site.
Check in with any of our diabetes experts with comments or questions.