This class of drugs can be an important part of a type 2 diabetes treatment plan.
Sulfonylureas are a group of medicines used to treat type 2 diabetes.
With type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't use the hormone insulin properly, leading to elevated levels of blood sugar (glucose).
The first sulfonylureas were developed in the 1950s.
The drugs work by increasing the release of insulin from the pancreas.
Sulfonylureas are only one part of a treatment plan for type 2 diabetes, which should also include diet and exercise to help control blood sugar levels.
Taking sulfonylureas, along with adopting a healthy lifestyle, can reduce your risk of developing serious or life-threatening complications of diabetes, which may include heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, kidney problems, or eye problems.
Some commonly prescribed sulfonylureas include:
- DiaBeta, Glynase, or Micronase (glyburide or glibenclamide)
- Amaryl (glimepiride)
- Diabinese (chlorpropamide)
- Glucotrol (glipizide)
- Tolinase (tolazamide)
Sulfonylureas are often taken in combination with other medicines, especially the drug metformin.
Side Effects of Sulfonylureas
Side effects of sulfonylureas may include:
- Signs of low blood sugar, such as sweating, dizziness, confusion, or nervousness
- Weight gain
- Skin reactions
- Upset stomach
- Dark-colored urine
Sulfonylureas shouldn't be taken by people with type 1 diabetes or diabetic ketoacidosis (a dangerous condition that can occur if high blood sugar is left untreated).
People with liver or kidney problems may not be able to take sulfonylureas. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.
Some sulfonylureas may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun, and wear sunscreen and protective clothing while outdoors.
Sulfonylureas typically cause changes in your blood sugar levels. You should know the symptoms of high and low blood sugar, and what to do if you experience them.
Some oral diabetes drugs may increase your risk of serious heart problems.
Not treating your diabetes can damage your heart and other organs. Talk to your doctor about these risks.
Your doctor will probably want to check your blood sugar and urine sugar levels often while you're taking a sulfonylurea. Keep all appointments with your doctor's office and laboratory.
Consider wearing a diabetic ID bracelet to be sure you get proper treatment in case of an emergency.
Let your healthcare provider know you're taking a sulfonylurea before having any type of medical procedure, including a dental procedure.
Tell your doctor about all prescription, non-prescription, illegal, recreational, herbal, nutritional, or dietary drugs you're taking before starting on a sulfonylurea.
Sulfonylureas and Alcohol
Alcohol may worsen certain side effects of sulfonylureas.
Limit or avoid drinking alcohol while taking these medicines.
Sulfonylureas and Pregnancy
Tell your doctor if you're pregnant or might become pregnant while taking a sulfonylurea.
It's not known whether these drugs are safe to use during pregnancy.
Also, talk to your healthcare provider before taking sulfonylureas if you're breastfeeding.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Sulfonylurea Agents: "Oral Hypoglycemic Agents," Joslin Diabetes Center.
- Sulfonylureas, MedlinePlus.