Jenilee Matz has a master’s degree in public health and worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a health communications specialist. She writes for several health publications including Everyday Health, HealthDay, and Diabetic Connect.
Medications are invaluable. They treat medical conditions so we can lead healthier lives. However, all drugs carry the risk of undesirable side effects, and medicines used to treat diabetes are no exception.
Side effects of diabetes drugs
When you’re prescribed a new diabetes drug, ask your doctor which side effects to look out for. No two people respond the same way to the same medication, so it’s impossible to know if you’ll experience a certain side effect before taking the drug.
Luckily, most side effects from diabetes medications are mild and easy to manage.
Common side effects from diabetes drugs include:
- Insulin: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and injection site reactions.
- Other injectable diabetes medications: Headache, nausea, dizziness, injection site reactions, and hypoglycemia.
- Oral diabetes drugs: Weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, gas, skin rash, headache, and hypoglycemia.
What to do if you experience one or more side effects
Taking all medications as directed can lower the risk of side effects. If you still experience side effects, alert your doctor. Note that you should never stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor first.
Your doctor may adjust the dosage, change the medication, or offer tips to make you more comfortable. Thankfully, many drugs can treat diabetes. If you react poorly to one, your doctor can often prescribe another.
These tips can help treat common side effects:
Nausea. Eat regular meals, munch on salty crackers between meals, chew ginger gum, and sip on ginger tea. If these measures don’t work, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend a prescription or an over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
Diarrhea. Limit caffeine and spicy, acidic, and high-fiber foods from your diet. If tweaking your diet doesn’t work, ask your doctor if any OTC drugs can help.
Weight gain. Weight gain caused by diabetes medications is typically only a small amount. Having a healthy lifestyle—which includes eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise—can keep your weight in a healthy range. If not, your doctor may prescribe a new medication that doesn’t cause weight gain.
Headache. Drink water, get plenty of sleep, and take OTC medications to help combat headaches. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which headache medication is safest for you to take.
Hypoglycemia. Taking more insulin than needed can cause blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low. Taking the right dose of insulin can help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Small fluctuations in blood sugar levels are normal, but if you have low blood sugar often, talk to your doctor. When you have low blood sugar, follow your hypoglycemia treatment plan as directed by your doctor.
Injection site reactions. Rotate the injection site often to help alleviate redness, soreness, and hard lumps under or around the injection site. Ask your doctor, nurse, or diabetes educator to watch you give yourself an injection. He or she may be able to offer helpful advice.
Serious side effects. Very rarely, risky side effects, like heart, kidney, or liver problems, can occur from taking diabetes medications. Know that your doctor only prescribes a drug when the benefit of taking it outweighs the risk of not taking it. If you’re prescribed a drug with a risk of serious side effects, your doctor will watch you closely.
How do you handle the side effects of your medications? Share with the community in the comments below.