What is metformin?
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 before meals.
Metformin doesn’t treat the underlying cause of diabetes. It treats the symptoms of diabetes by lowering blood sugar. It also increases the use of glucose in peripheral muscles and the liver. Metformin also 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)
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. However, before you stop taking metformin consult your doctor to ensure this is the right step to take in managing your diabetes.
Side effects and risks of metformin
Before you start taking metformin, your doctor will want to discuss your medical history. You won’t be able to take this medication if you have a history of any of the following:
- alcohol abuse
- liver disease
- kidney issues
- certain heart problems
If you are currently taking metformin, you may have encountered some side effects. If you’ve just started treatment with this drug, it’s important to know some of the side effects you may encounter.
Most common side effects
The most common side effects are digestive issues and may include:
- abdominal cramps
- gas, or flatulence
Other side effects
In some cases, metformin leads to poor absorption of vitamin B-12. That can lead to a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Taking metformin might also lead to 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 and adjust your dosage as needed. Hypoglycemia due to metformin is a rare side effect. It’s more likely to occur if you’re also using insulin, insulin-releasing pills, or drugs that increase blood sugar levels.
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.
There are also a few risks involved with taking metformin that you should be aware of. These include:
- nerve damage
- loss of limbs
- kidney damage
When is it OK to stop 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. However, this should only be done in collaboration with your doctor.
Some people who change their lifestyle by increasing exercise and losing weight are able to stop taking the medication. You may also be able to stop taking metformin if the following occurs when taking low doses of the medication or none at all:
- 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 stress that you talk with your doctor before changing your metformin plan.
What you can do
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.