The findings are published in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
According to the American Diabetes Association, sulfonylurea drugs are insulin-production stimulants that have been in use since the 1950s. Metformin, also dating to the 1950s, works by lowering blood glucose levels.
To compare the impact of the two drugs on cardiovascular results, the authors focused on a pool of more than 250,000 veterans over age 18 who started treatment with one of the two medications between 2001 and 2008.
Nearly 100,000 were placed on a standard regimen of sulfonylurea therapy, while roughly 155,000 took metformin. None had any serious medical complications other than diabetes at the start of the study.
A statistical analysis revealed that for every 1,000 patients who took metformin for one year there were two fewer heart attacks, strokes or deaths relative to those taking sulfonylureas, Roumie said.
The authors noted that their current observations were consistent with prior indications that metformin is associated with fewer serious heart issues than sulfonylurea.
In an editorial in the same journal, Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, agreed that the study's findings do point to metformin as a better choice for diabetes treatment, while calling for more research.
"While the signals pointing to this situation have probably been there for several decades the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] did not require testing for cardiovascular outcomes when looking at diabetes drugs until very recently," Nissen said. "Which means the industry has developed drugs solely based on their ability to lower blood sugar."
At least two-thirds of people with diabetes will die of heart disease, Nissen added.
"The kind of information provided by a study like this on a diabetes drug's impact on
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