Drugs and Medications to Treat Diabetes

Diabetic medications work in different ways to reduce the sugar level in the bloodstream. Some of these medications work by activating the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Drugs that help to increase sensitivity of the cells to insulin are widely recommended by physicians for treating insulin resistance diabetes.

The blood sugar level can also be reduced by suppressing activities of enzymes that aid sugar digestion and preventing the liver from releasing glucose in the blood. Diabetes drugs are either taken orally or injected.

Medications to Treat Diabetes

Oral anti-diabetic Drugs


Meglitinide works by stimulating the pancreas to increase insulin synthesis. Repaglinide and nateglinide are meglitinide drugs used for keeping the blood sugar level under control. These drugs work rapidly. They are also speedily eliminated from the body. Hypoglycemia or abnormal reduction in the sugar level may occur if this drug is not taken just before meals. Meglitinide drugs are ideal for type-2 diabetes patients who could not follow a strict schedule for meals. Although side effects of these drugs are rare, some people may experience weight gain, headache, nausea and back pain,


Sulfonylurea induces the pancreatic beta cells to increase insulin secretion. Drugs that belong to this category include chlorpropamide, glipizide, glimepiride, glyburide, tolbutamide and tolazamide.


These drugs are effective in reducing the blood sugar level when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or the body cells are resistant to the hormone. Sulfonylurea drugs work rapidly. They may cause hypoglycemia if not taken just before a meal. These diabetic drugs may cause weight gain, skin rash and nausea. Sulfonylurea is not recommended for people with liver and kidney problems.

Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors

By suppressing the activities of the enzyme DPP-4, Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors increase the level of the gastrointestinal hormone called incretin. The incretin GLP-1 helps to lower the blood glucose level by inhibiting glucagen secretion, thereby preventing the liver from releasing glucose in the blood.

Moreover, GLP-1 delays stomach emptying and stimulates insulin production. The DPP-4 inhibitors used for keeping the blood sugar level under control include sitagliptin, saxagliptin and linagliptin. These drugs may cause headache, sore throat and increase the risk of infection of the upper respiratory tract. Inflammation of the pancreas is a common side effect of the DPP-4 inhibitor sitagliptin.


Biguanide works by preventing the liver from converting glycogen into glucose. Moreover, these drugs increase the sensitivity of the cells to insulin.


Metformin is a popular biguanide used for normalizing the blood sugar level in type 2 as well as type 1 diabetics on insulin therapy. Nausea and diarrhea are common side effects of this drug. Increase in lactic acid level is a rare side effect of biguanide drugs.


Thiazolidinedione reduces the glucose level in the blood by reducing resistance to insulin in fats and muscles and decreasing conversion of glycogen into glucose in the liver. Pioglitazone and rosiglitazone are thiazolidinedione drugs used for keeping the blood sugar level under control. Studies suggest that thiazolidinedione may increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, liver disease and stroke.

Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitor

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitor reduces the blood sugar level by inhibiting activities of alpha-glucosidase enzymes that aid digestion of carbohydrates. However, alpha-glucosidase inhibitor slows down digestion of complex carbohydrates or starches, but it cannot reduce digestion of simple sugar. Acarbose and miglitol are two alpha-glucosidase inhibitors used for lowering the blood sugar level. They must be taken just before a meal. Gas, stomach pain and diarrhea are common side effects of these anti-diabetic drugs.

Injectable Anti-diabetic Drugs

Amylin Mimetic

Amylin mimetic is primarily used by type 1 diabetes patients on insulin therapy. By delaying stomach emptying, amylin mimetic drugs slow down release of glucose in the bloodstream. Moreover, it prevents the liver from releasing glucose in the blood. By suppressing hunger, the amylin mimetic drugs may help to decrease the glucose level further.


Pramlintide is currently the only amylin mimetic used for diabetes treatment. Hypoglycemia, headache, nausea and vomiting are common side effects of amylin mimetic injections.

Incretin Mimetic

Incretin is a gastrointestinal hormone that stimulates insulin secretion in the beta cells of the pancreas after a person eats. By mimicking incretin, incretin mimetic drugs stimulate insulin production. Moreover, they prevent the pancreas from releasing too much of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon stimulates the liver to convert glyocogen into glucose. Moreover, these incretin like drugs retard the stomach emptying process after eating.

As a result, your hunger will be satisfied easily after eating small meals, thereby preventing abnormal rise in the blood sugar level after meals. Exenatide and liraglutide are two incretin mimetic drugs used for reducing the blood sugar level. Incretin mimetics are primarily recommended for diabetics on sulfonylurea and biguanide. Headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and kidney damage are common side effects of the drug.