Common diabetes drugs linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke, study says

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Although diabetes drugs can help manage your blood sugar levels, they can be harmful to your heart, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recently conducted a study, published in JAMA Network Open, to determine the association between diabetes medication and cardiovascular events like heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

To do so, they examined 132,737 patients with Type 2 diabetes who were starting second-line treatment, such as sulfonylureas and basal insulin.

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These medications are commonly prescribed to patients after they have taken metformin, a widely accepted initial Type 2 diabetes treatment. These patients needed the second-line medication because the metformin alone didn’t work.

After analyzing the results, they found that 60 percent of patients who need a second-line drug are prescribed either sulfonylureas and basal insulin. They also discovered those who take one of these two drugs are more likely to experience a cardiovascular event, compared to those taking a newer class of diabetes drugs.

In fact, those on sulfonylureas were 36 percent more likely to have a heart attack, heart failure or stroke, and those on basal insulin were twice as likely.

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“According to our findings, we only have to prescribe basal insulin to 37 people over two years to observe one cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or amputation,” co-author Matthew O’Brien said in a statement. “For sulfonylureas, that number was a bit higher: 103 people. But when you apply these numbers to 30 million Americans with diabetes, this has staggering implications for how we may be harming many patients.”

The authors suggest that doctors prescribe newer classes of diabetes medications, such as GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors or DPP-4 inhibitors. Although these drugs are more expensive, the scientists believe they can help lower the risk of heart damage.

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“This should force providers to think about cardiovascular effects of these drugs early in the course of diabetes treatment,” O’Brien said, “and shift prescribing patterns to newer drugs that have more favorable cardiovascular profiles.”

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