New diabetes medication hits the market

February 22, 2012

As we continue to learn more about type 2 diabetes, researchers are finding new ways to treat it. Type 2 diabetes in some ways can be more complex than type 1, in that there are many factors causing blood sugar to be elevated: insulin resistance of the body’s cells, decreased insulin secretion by the pancreas, overproduction of glucose from the liver, improper timing of gut hormones and, the newest find, over-reabsorption of glucose in the kidneys.

This is why there are so many different drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes! Using multiple medications for diabetes treatment does not necessarily mean that your diabetes is “worse.” I like to think of it as treating many different facets of diabetes in order to improve blood sugar control.

You may have heard of, or be taking, Byetta.  Byetta (exenatide) is an injectable medication in the class called GLP-1 receptor agonists or “incretin mimetics.”  Byetta is given 30-60 minutes before 2 meals a day, usually breakfast and dinner, and performs many functions:

  • Slows gastric emptying (how fast your stomach digests food)
  • Increases satiety (feeling of fullness after a meal)
  • Increases insulin production, but only in the presence of glucose
  • Decreases glucose production by the liver
  • Helps promote weight loss

Now there’s a new GLP-1 receptor agonist that performs the same functions as Byetta, except it is available in a once-weekly, long-acting injectable dose. It’s called Bydureon (a long-acting form of exenatide). Even though Byetta and Bydureon are injectable medications, they are not insulin.

If you have type 2 diabetes and you’re having trouble controlling blood sugars, Bydureon could be a good option for you because you only have to take it once per week, versus twice per day. Side effects include symptoms of nausea, vomiting and sometimes diarrhea (even more prominent than with Byetta). Nausea is a common side effect of both Byetta and Bydureon–in fact this is one of the reasons these medications are used. They help people learn to stop eating when satisfied and prevent overeating. Overeating when taking Byetta or Bydureon typically increases symptoms of nausea. Both Byetta and Bydureon are not recommended as the first treatment for type 2 diabetes and should be used in conjunction with diet and exercise. Talk to your doctor to find out if a GLP-1 receptor agonist might be right for you.

There are some serious warnings related to taking Bydureon. You will find that both Byetta and Bydureon carry warnings of thyroid tumors and medullary thyroid cancer (MTC); which developed in animal studies. It is advised that people  with a history or family history of MTC not take Bydureon. Bydureon also increases your risk for acute pancreatitis. It is advised that you tell your doctor if you have had pancreatitis, gallstones, high triglycerides or a history of alcoholism prior to starting Bydureon.

For more information about Bydureon, click here. If you feel like your diabetes care plan isn’t working as you’d like, also consider meeting with a Diabetes Educator or Registered Dietitian.

Photo credit: posterize


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