Health & Fitness: What is metformin and how does it work?

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a group of items on a table: Metformin (Glucophage, Sukkarto) used for type 2 diabetes, also prescribed for PCOS. Info about side effects, dosage and interactions with other medicines © Carol Yepes - Getty Images Metformin (Glucophage, Sukkarto) used for type 2 diabetes, also prescribed for PCOS. Info about side effects, dosage and interactions with other medicines

Metformin hydrochloride is type of medicine called a biguanide. Metformin is used when diet alone has failed to fully control blood sugar. It may be used on its own, in combination with other oral antidiabetic medicines, or with insulin.

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Metformin is a generic medicine that is available as tablets, modified or slow-release tablets, liquid and sachets of powder. Metformin standard tablets (500mg and 850mg) are also available under the brand name Glucophage.

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Metformin slow-release tablets (500mg, 750mg and 1000mg) are also available as under the following brand names: Bolamyn SR, Diagemet XL, Glucient SR, Glucophage SR, Metabet SR and Sukkarto SR.

Some people with type 2 diabetes need to take metformin in combination with another antidiabetic medicine to control their blood sugar and the following medicines are now available to make combined treatment more convenient:

    • Competact (metformin with pioglitazone).
    • Eucreas (metformin with vildagliptin).
    • Janumet (metformin with sitagliptin).
    • Jentadueto (metformin with linagliptin).
    • Komboglyze (metformin with saxagliptin).
    • Synjardy (metformin with empagliflozin).
    • Vipdomet (metformin with alogliptin).
    • Vokanamet (metformin with canagliflozin).
    • Xigduo (metformin with dapagliflozin).

What is metformin used for?

▪️ Controlling blood sugar levels in adults, adolescents and children aged 10 years and over with type 2 diabetes. Metformin is used when diet alone has failed to fully control blood sugar. It may be used on its own, in combination with other oral antidiabetic medicines, or with insulin.

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▪️ Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is an off-licence use of metformin, so you won't find it mentioned in the information leaflets that come with the medicine. However, metformin is a widely used and established treatment option for PCOS.

How does metformin work?

Metformin works in various ways to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

In type 2 diabetes the cells in the body, particularly muscle, fat and liver cells, become resistant to the action of insulin. Insulin is the main hormone responsible for controlling the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood. It makes cells in the body remove sugar from the blood. When the cells are resistant to insulin this makes blood sugar levels rise too high.

Metformin increases the sensitivity of muscle cells to insulin. This enables these cells to remove sugar from the blood more effectively.

Metformin also reduces the amount of sugar produced by cells in the liver and delays the absorption of sugar from the intestines into the bloodstream after eating so that there is less of a spike in blood sugar levels after meals.

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Metformin is taken regularly every day to help control blood sugar levels throughout the day.

In polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) many women have high insulin levels, and as a result their cells become resistant to the action of insulin. The high insulin levels also cause an increase in the male hormone testosterone. Both problems can cause some of the symptoms of PCOS, such as hair growth, weight gain, irregular periods and fertility problems.

As metformin improves the sensitivity of cells to insulin, this can help insulin levels to fall in PCOS. This has a knock-on effect of causing testosterone levels to fall. Although it's not licensed for this PCOS, metformin can be helpful in managing some of its symptoms.

Read more about metformin

How do I take metformin?

What should I know before taking metformin?

What are the possible side effects of metformin?

Can I take other medicines with metformin?

Last updated: 30.09.2020


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