What are Sulfonylureas?

Get to know this popular blood-sugar-lowering drug.



Know Your Drugs

A drug prescription can come with a lot of questions. With our “Know Your Drugs” series, we provide you with a snapshot of the different diabetes drugs on the market, and links to additional information.

Metformin may be the most widely prescribed drug for Type 2 diabetes, but a lesser-known type of drug, sulfonylureas (SUs), ranks second.

Sulfonylureas remain an effective and cheap option for blood sugar control, and are often used in combination with metformin. These drugs lower blood glucose levels by stimulating pancreatic function and allowing the body to use insulin more effectively. SUs were discovered in France in the fifties, but it took until the 1980’s for their use to become mainstream in the United States.

There has been a longstanding debate about whether there is any correlation between taking these drugs and an increased risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality. Older studies seemed to suggest a correlation, while newer studies tended to contradict that argument.

This year, a systematic review of past trials involving SUs was published by PLOS Medicine. The review examined data from almost 40,000 people with diabetes. When comparing death rates among those patients who took the drug and those who didn’t, researchers found there was a slightly higher risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality with the drug’s use. However, the researchers found the risks of taking the drug did not outweigh the benefits.

There are almost a dozen brands of SUs on the market, including Diabeta and Micronase.

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Emma Dunn is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing student at Emerson College in Boston. Besides writing for Type2Nation and Insulin Nation, she also writes for the online publication, The Odyssey.