Acarbose

Sounds like 'ah-KAR-bose'

Easy-to-read medicine information about acarbose – what it is, how to take acarbose safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Medication for type 2 diabetes
  • Glucobay®

What is acarbose?

Acarbose is used to treat type 2 diabetes, together with exercise, good nutrition, weight loss and other lifestyle measures. It may be used alone, or with other medicines for diabetes. Acarbose works by slowing the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates (sugars) from your digestive system and in this way lowers high blood glucose after each meal. To work properly acarbose must be taken at the start of a meal (with the first bites). In New Zealand acarbose is available as tablets (50 mg and 100 mg).

Read more about type 2 diabetes and medicines for type 2 diabetes.  

Dose

  • The starting dose of acarbose is 50 milligrams 3 times a day.
  • Depending on your blood glucose level, your doctor may increase your dose to 100 milligrams 3 times a day. Some people may need a higher dose.    
  • Always take your acarbose exactly as your doctor has told you. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much acarbose to take, how often to take it, and any special instructions.

How to take acarbose

  • Chew your acarbose tablet with the first mouthfuls of food at each meal, or swallow the tablet whole with a little water just before your meal.
  • To control your diabetes, you must keep taking acarbose every day.
  • Limit or avoid drinking alcohol while you are taking acarbose. It may affect your blood glucose control.
  • If you forget your dose with your meal, wait to take the next dose with your next meal. Do not take double the dose and do not take the tablets between meals. 

Precautions – before taking acarbose

  • Do you have problems with your kidney or liver?
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • Do you have problems with your stomach (tummy) such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, or have you had bowel surgery (stomach operation)?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start acarbose. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions, or it can only be used with extra care.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, acarbose can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Low blood glucose

Sometimes acarbose may lower your blood glucose too much. This is called hypoglycaemia or a 'hypo'.

  • Hypos are most likely to occur when acarbose is used together with glipizide, gliclazide, metformin or insulin to control your diabetes, or if you delay or miss a meal or snack, drink alcohol, exercise more than usual or can't eat because of nausea or vomiting.
  • Hypoglycaemia may cause you to feel weak, faint, dizzy or irritable. You may get a headache, tremor (shakes) or blurred vision.
  • If this happens, drink something sweet such as a small glass of sweetened soft drink or fruit juice, or have a glucose tablet. It is best to use glucose rather than sucrose (sugar and cane sugar) because sucrose takes longer to break down if taken with acarbose and can cause diarrhoea. Follow this up with a snack such as a sandwich.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens.
  • Read more about hypoglycaemia and diabetes sick day plan.

Other side effects

Side effects What should I do?
  • Bloating or gas in the tummy,
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea (loose, watery stools)
  • These are quite common when you first start taking acarbose and usually go away with time.
  • Eating foods containing sucrose (sugar) with acarbose is likely to make these symptoms worse.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face, and mouth or difficulty breathing. 
 
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116 
  • Signs of problems with your liver such as yellowing of the skin or eyes, dark urine, pain in the abdomen. 
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116 

Interactions

Acarbose may interact with a few medications and herbal supplements, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting acarbose or before starting any new medicines.

Learn more

The following links have more information on acarbose.

Acarbose (Māori) New Zealand Formulary Patient Information
Glucobay Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet

References

  1. Acarbose New Zealand Formulary [accessed April 2017]
  2. Managing patients with type 2 diabetes: from lifestyle to insulin BPAC Dec 2015
  3. Glucobay Medsafe Datasheet
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 05 May 2019