Around eight percent of children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Most suffer from type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body doesn't metabolize blood sugar (glucose) properly. Although experts have yet to find a cure for diabetes, patients can manage their conditions through diet, exercise, and medication.

The two most commonly prescribed diabetic medicines, metformin and sulfonylurea, are taken to control blood sugar levels. However, a large, multi-year study has shown that patients who take metformin have less risk for heart attack, stroke or death than those who take sulfonylurea.

Research compares the drugs

In one study, researchers compared the impact of the metformin and sulfonylurea on cardiovascular health. The study involved over 250,000 veterans who started treatment with either medication between the years 2001 and 2008.

Over the course of the research period, experts observed that patients taking sulfonylurea were 21 percent more likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular complications, including acute myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, or death, than those taking metformin.

A separate study found that sulfonylurea was more likely to increase systolic blood pressure (pressure in the arteries when the heart beats) over a 12-month period than metformin. Based on these results, researchers hope doctors will recommend metformin as a starting medication for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Heart disease and diabetes

Diabetics are twice as likely to have a heart disease or stroke compared to people who do not have diabetes. And they're at greater risk for heart disease or stroke at an earlier age. In fact, middle-aged adults with type 2 diabetes face as much of a risk of heart attack as a person without diabetes who has already suffered a heart attack.

Additionally, diabetics often deal with comorbid conditions — other health issues that increase their chances of developing heart disease and stroke. These include:

• Obesity
• High cholesterol.
• Coronary artery disease (CAD; narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart)
• Cerebral vascular disease (limited or no blood flow to areas of the brain)
• Peripheral arterial disease (narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels in the legs).

If you are diabetic, talk with your doctor about the diet and medication options you should consider for lowering your risks for heart attack and stroke.