Medications for diabetes

The main aim of treatment for diabetes is to reduce your risk of developing complications by keeping your blood glucose, or sugar, levels at reasonable levels.

Medicines for type 2 diabetes 

There are various medicines that are used to treat type 2 diabetes, such as:

  • Metformin 
  • Sulphonylureas (example, gliclazide, glipizide, glibenclamide) 
  • Acarbose 
  • Pioglitazone
  • Insulin

Metformin

Metformin works by improving your body's response to the insulin you naturally make. It also reduces the amount of sugar that your liver makes and that your stomach/intestines absorb. Metformin is prescribed in people with type 2 diabetes whose blood glucose levels cannot be lowered with diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes.     

Sulphonylureas

Sulphonylureas work by making your pancreas produce more insulin. They are prescribed in people with type 2 diabetes whose blood glucose levels cannot be lowered with metformin. There are several tablets in this group. They include:

  • Gliclazide also known as Glizon or Apo-Gliclazide
  • Glipizide also known as Minidiab
  • Glibenclamide also known as Gliben or Apo-Glibenclamide

Pioglitazone

This is an insulin sensitiser which help reduce insulin resistance in your body. Pioglitazone is prescribed in people with type 2 diabetes whose blood glucose levels cannot be lowered with metformin and sulphonylureas.

Acarbose

Acarbose reduces the rise in blood glucose levels after a meal by delaying the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrates in the stomach. Acarbose is prescribed in people with type 2 diabetes whose blood glucose levels cannot be lowered with metformin and sulphonylureas.

Insulin

Insulin injections are used in type 2 diabetes, when blood glucose levels cannot be lowered with metformin, and sulphonylureas. This is usually when the body no longer produces enough insulin. The manufactured insulin is very similar to our natural human insulin. Insulin is given as an injection, under the skin. It cannot be given as tablets because it is destroyed by chemicals in the stomach. There are various different types of insulin.

Questions to ask about your diabetes medicines

Taking your diabetes medicines properly is an important part of your diabetes care. It is important to understand what your medicines are for and how to take them. Here are some questions that you might ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse:  

  • What is the name of my medicine and what does it do?
  • What is the strength (for example, how many milligrams)? 
  • When should I expect the medicine to start working, and how will I know if it is?
  • How much should I take for each dose?
  • At what times of day should I take my medicine?
  • Am I supposed to take it with something to eat?
  • What should I do if I forget to take a dose?
  • Are there any side effects to watch out for?
  • Can my diabetes medicine cause low blood glucose?
  • What should I do if my blood glucose is too low?
  • What should I do if I feel better and don't want to finish taking all of it?
  • Is it okay to take with other medicines, alcohol or natural remedies?
  • What should I do if it doesn't seem to work?

Learn more

Return to main diabetes page
Medication for diabetes – overview PHARMAC (NZ)