The discovery of insulin in 1921 radically changed the treatment of diabetes, offering those with diabetes the chance to enjoy longer, healthier lives.

For years, insulin was the only medication available to treat this condition, until another major breakthrough came with the introduction of oral, non-insulin drugs. And yet, these drugs don’t always sufficiently control blood glucose levels.

3 FDA-approved non-insulin drugs

In the last decade, researchers have developed new drugs that work with insulin—whether it’s naturally produced by the body or injected—to help better manage blood sugar levels.

The three main types of non-insulin, injectable FDA-approved medicines that you should know about are:

  • Symlin (generic name pramlintide)
  • Byetta (generic name exenatide)
  • Victoza (generic name liraglutide)

Symlin (generic name Pramlintide)

What does it do? This is a synthetic version of a hormone called amylin, which is produced in the pancreas along with insulin. Working with insulin, this drug helps keep sudden spikes in blood sugar levels in check, particularly after eating.

Who can use it: Symlin is for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who use insulin.

Possible side effects: Although Symlin is administered at the same time as insulin, each medication must be injected separately due to chemical differences. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, which may decrease over time as you find the right dosage.

Byetta (generic name exenatide)

What does it do? This medication mimics the action of a hormone called incretin, which triggers the pancreas to release insulin when blood glucose levels rise.

Who can use it: Byetta is approved for people with type 2 diabetes who require insulin. This medication requires two injections per day, within an hour before eating a meal.

Possible side effects: Common side effects include nausea, headaches, diarrhea, and vomiting. In rare cases, this drug may cause inflammation of the pancreas.

Victoza (generic name liraglutide)

What does it do? In the same class of drugs as Byetta, this drug also mimics the naturally-produced hormone incretin—allowing insulin to work more effectively at lowering blood sugar levels.

Who can use it: Victoza is approved for people with type 2 diabetes who require insulin. Unlike Byetta, which requires two daily injections, patients only need to inject this drug once per day—at any time of day. It can be taken with or without food.

Possible side effects: Common side effects include headache, nausea, and diarrhea. Rarely, this drug may cause inflammation of the pancreas.

The future for diabetes treatment is promising, as researchers continue to discover effective, new medications. You can successfully manage your condition and enjoy a healthy, active life. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of each medication to decide the best route for you.