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Class of Drugs Linked to Higher Heart Risk in Older Diabetics
Date:6/25/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

SATURDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- New research shows that older people with type 2 diabetes who take drugs known as sulfonylureas to lower their blood sugar levels may face a higher risk for heart problems than their counterparts who take metformin.

Of the more than 8,500 people aged 65 or older with type 2 diabetes who were enrolled in the trial, 12.4 percent of those given a sulfonylurea drug experienced a heart attack or other cardiovascular event, compared with 10.4 percent of those who were started on metformin.

In addition, these heart problems occurred earlier in the course of treatment among those people taking the sulfonylurea drugs, the study showed.

The head-to-head comparison trial is slated to be presented Saturday at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting in San Diego. Because the findings are being reported at a medical meeting, they should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

With type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough of the hormone insulin or doesn't use the insulin it does produce properly. In either case, the insulin can't do its job, which is to deliver glucose (blood sugar) to the body's cells. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood and can wreak havoc on the body.

Metformin and sulfonylurea drugs -- the latter a class of diabetes drugs including glyburide, glipizide, chlorpropamide, tolbutamide and tolazamide -- are often among the first medications prescribed to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

The findings are important, the researchers noted, partly because sulfonylurea drugs are commonly prescribed among the elderly to lower blood glucose levels. In addition, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among people with type 2 diabetes.

For several reasons, however, the new study on these medications is far from the final word
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