The most common medication worldwide for treating diabetes is metformin (Glumetza, Riomet, Glucophage, Fortamet). It can help control high blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. It’s available in tablet form or a clear liquid you take by mouth with meals.
If you’re taking metformin for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, it may be possible to stop. Instead, you may be able to manage your condition by making certain lifestyle changes, like losing weight and getting more exercise.
Read on to learn more about metformin and whether or not it’s possible to stop taking it. Before you stop taking metformin, talk to your doctor to see if this is the right step to take in managing your diabetes.
Metformin doesn’t treat the underlying cause of diabetes. It treats the symptoms of diabetes by lowering blood sugar, or glucose, in three ways:
- It decreases liver production of glucose.
- It decreases absorption of glucose from the gut.
- It improves insulin sensitivity in peripheral tissues, increasing tissue uptake and use of glucose.
Metformin helps with other things in addition to improving blood sugar. These include:
- lowering lipids, resulting in a decrease in blood triglyceride levels
- decreasing “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
- increasing “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
- possibly reducing your appetite, which may result in modest weight loss
Because of its possible risks and side effects, metformin isn’t safe for everyone. It’s not recommended if you have a history of any of the following:
- alcohol abuse
- liver disease
- kidney issues
- certain heart problems
If you’re currently taking metformin and have experienced some unpleasant side effects, you might be looking for alternative treatment options.
Most common side effects
The most common side effects are digestive issues and may include:
- abdominal cramps
- gas (flatulence)
- metallic taste
- loss of appetite
Other side effects
In some cases, metformin leads to poor absorption of vitamin B-12. That can lead to a vitamin B-12 deficiency, though this only occurs after long-term use of this medication. As a precaution, doctors will check the B-12 levels of their patients who are taking metformin every one to two years.
Taking metformin might also lead to loss of appetite, which could cause a small amount of weight loss. But taking this medication won’t lead to weight gain.
There are also a few other side effects you may encounter:
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, might occur since metformin lowers blood sugar. It’s important to monitor your blood sugar regularly so your doctor can adjust your dosage based on your blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia due to metformin is a rare side effect.
Low blood sugar is more likely to occur if you take metformin with other diabetes drugs or insulin.
Metformin can cause a life-threatening condition called lactic acidosis. People who have lactic acidosis have a buildup of a substance called lactic acid in their blood and shouldn’t take metformin.
This condition is very dangerous and often fatal. But this is a rare side effect and affects only 1 in 100,000 people taking metformin.
Metformin can be an important part of an effective diabetes treatment plan. But reducing the dosage of metformin or stopping it altogether is safe in some cases.
If you want to stop taking diabetes medications, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about what steps you need to take to do so.
Everyone who has diabetes can benefit from changing certain lifestyle habits, even those who are taking medications.
Losing weight, eating better, and exercising are the best ways to help reduce blood glucose and HbA1c. If you can control these measures through such lifestyle changes, you may be able to stop taking metformin or other diabetes drugs.
Usually, you need to meet the following criteria before you can stop taking diabetes medications:
- Your hemoglobin A1c is less than 7 percent.
- Your fasting morning blood glucose is under 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
- Your random or postprandial (after meal) blood glucose level is below 180 mg/dL.
It’s risky to stop taking metformin if you don’t meet these criteria. So it’s important to talk with your doctor before changing your metformin plan.
Metformin may help you prevent long-term health complications from type 2 diabetes. But you may be able to stop taking it if your doctor thinks you can maintain your blood sugar without this medication.
You may be able to successfully lower and control your blood sugar without medication by making lifestyle changes such as the following:
- Lose body weight.
- Get more exercise.
- Reduce your intake of carbohydrates.
- Modify your diet to include low-glycemic carbohydrates.
- Stop smoking if you smoke, and stop using tobacco in any form.
- Either drink less alcohol or stop drinking it altogether.
Also, it’s important to get support. A registered dietitian, personal trainer, or peer group can improve your chances of sticking with these healthy habits.