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Sulfonylurea Drugs Linked to Rising Risk of Death Among Type 2 Diabetes Patients

Filed September 27th, 2013 Laurie

Patients who take sulfonylureas as first-line therapy for type 2 diabetes face an increased risk for death over those who take the more traditional treatment metformin, according to a new study. A second study shows that the combination of metformin and a sulfonylurea is associated with a significantly increased risk for death compared with combination therapy with metformin and a dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitor (or “gliptin”).

Craig Curry, PhD, from the University of Cardiff, United Kingdom, said the findings should convince doctors and authors of clinical guidelines to stop prescribing sulfonylureas to diabetic patients. He presented the studies’ results at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 2013 meeting, according to Medscape.com.

“I am bewildered it’s still being used,” Dr. Currie told Medscape Medical News. “People should avoid using a drug where the balance of evidence, at the moment, demonstrates that it kills people.”

According to Andreas Pfeiffer, MD, from Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany, who moderated the EASD press conference, sulfonylureas are prescribed as first-line therapy for type 2 diabetics about 15 percent of the time, though that number varies from country to country. Here in the U.S., and in Europe, the drugs are used second-line treatment in combination with metformin because they are very cheap and an established treatment course, Medscape.com reported.

Andreas Pfeiffer, MD, from Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany, who moderated the EASD press conference, told Medscape.com that the clinical guidelines highlight the potential dangers and benefits of sulfonylureas, but Germany and other healthcare systems require physicians to prescribe sulfonylureas if a patient can’t take Metformin or needs a second drug to treat his or her type 2 diabetes.

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