Different kinds of diabetes medicines work to control blood sugar levels in different ways.

Glipizide belongs to a family of type 2 diabetes drugs called sulfonylureas. These medicines make your pancreas produce more insulin, and insulin, in turn, lowers blood sugar. Sulfonylureas also help your body make better use of that insulin.

Sulfonylureas are the most frequently prescribed type of oral drug for type 2 diabetes. They have proven themselves in decades of use, and newer sulfonylureas including glipizide and its cousins glyburide and glimepiride are more potent and better tolerated than earlier drugs of this type.

But like any prescription medicine, glipizide has possible side effects, drug interactions, and other issues you should know about.

When glipizide makes sense

Pills don’t cure diabetes; they only treat its symptoms. But it’s essential to control your blood sugar to help prevent less-common but dire complications of diabetes, including kidney failure, foot amputation, and blindness.

There is growing scientific evidence that many people with type 2 diabetes—especially in the early years of the disease—can control blood sugar without drugs by changing their diet, getting more exercise, controlling their weight, and quitting smoking. So doctors often recommend these lifestyle changes first.

If that doesn’t work well enough, it’s time to consider adding medicine. Your doctor may recommend glipizide, metformin, or another drug. But taking pills doesn’t mean you can ease up on those healthy lifestyle measures. These key lifestyle changes are the foundation of good diabetes control, and they also provide a long list of important benefits to your overall health.

Metformin is often the doctor’s first choice in oral diabetes drugs. Glipizide is also a popular choice because it works well, is available as an inexpensive generic, and is often easier for your body to adjust to than metformin.

Sometimes two medicines are needed if one hasn’t produced the desired results. Doctors may first try giving you metformin and later add glipizide as a second medication. Combination pills that contain both medicines are also available.

Common side effects of glipizide

The most worrisome common side effect of glipizide is low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. In some people, glipizide sometimes causes the pancreas to send too much insulin into the bloodstream. That can push your blood sugar dangerously low.

Watch for signs of low blood sugar, including sweating, shaking, dizziness, and confusion. Checking your blood sugar regularly is critical because some people don’t get minor symptoms that warn them that their blood sugar is heading into the danger zone. Seek immediate help for low blood sugar, and eat a small portion of fast-acting carbohydrates such as fruit juice, soda pop, hard candy, or glucose tablets.

Most other common glipizide side effects are centered around your gut (including pain, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea, and gas), and your skin (including rashes, itching, hives, and blisters). Weight gain, headaches, dizziness, jitteriness, and shaking may happen too, and glipizide may also raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and produce fluid in your legs and ankles.

All diabetes medicines have possible side effects. But most side effects ease over time, and many people will never experience serious ones. Tell your doctor if you have severe or persistent symptoms. And bear in mind, even “common” side effects of glipizide only happen to a small minority of people who take the drug.

What about less common side effects?

Rarely, glipizide produces serious side effects including hepatitis, jaundice, congestive heart failure, low red blood cell counts, allergic reactions, low counts of blood platelets or white blood cells, buildup of acid in the blood, and eye problems. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms: yellowing skin or eyes, light-colored stools, dark urine, fever, sore throat, pain in the upper right part of the stomach, or unusual bruising or bleeding.

Unpleasant side effects cause as many as 10 to 20 percent of diabetes patients to quit taking their pills. Don’t do that without consulting your doctor. Adjusting your dose or trying a different medicine may be all it takes to get you back on track with an effective treatment.

Is glipizide safe to take with other drugs?

Many medications may affect how well glipizide works, change your blood sugar levels, or increase your risk of side effects.

To be safe, tell your doctor and your pharmacist about everything you take: prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbs. They are the experts who can help you prevent or minimize drug interactions by adjusting your medications or doses as needed.

Are there foods I should avoid?

In general, there are no foods considered unsafe with glipizide.

However, talk with your doctor before drinking alcohol while taking glipizide. Depending on how well controlled your diabetes is, alcohol may cause either high or low blood sugar. Also, in rare cases it may cause wide-ranging symptoms such as facial flushing, breathing problems, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, blurred vision, confusion, sweating, and anxiety. When in doubt, don’t wait to get medical help.

Where else could glipizide turn up?

Glipizide is the generic name for a drug that is sold in both regular and extended-release (long-acting) forms. It is also sold as the name-brand medicine Glucotrol.

Glipizide and metformin are both found in the name-brand combination drug Metaglip and in its aptly named generic version, glipizide/metformin.

Why glipizide is worthwhile

Knowing the facts about glipizide shouldn’t discourage you from taking it if your doctor recommends it. Here’s another fact that may help: glipizide brings A1c down 1.3 to 1.8 points on average. That’s a big deal. It could make the difference in achieving a lasting blood sugar level that lowers your risk of complications and increases your chances of a longer, healthier life.

To learn more about oral medications for diabetes:
Can Diabetes Pills Help Me?
Pills: Just One Tool - Not a Diabetes Cure-All
Beware of Diabetes Medication-Related Problems