Diabetes drugs can have a down side

Do you understand the downsides of diabetes drugs?

Diabetes is a leading cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “More than 100 million Americans are living with diabetes (30.3 million) or prediabetes (84.1 million.)”

Complications of Type 2 diabetes include kidney disease, eye and nerve damage, dementia and cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and strokes. The goal of treating diabetes is to reduce the likelihood of developing these serious health problems.

One of the unexpected consequences of some diabetes medicines was an increased risk of heart attacks, heart failure and other cardiovascular complications. The Food and Drug Administration then required companies to test newer diabetes drugs for the potential to cause heart problems.

Certain companies breathed a sigh of relief when their diabetes medications didn’t cause heart attacks and strokes. But they didn’t mention that these drugs also failed to prevent such catastrophes.

That’s why the maker of empagliflozin (Jardiance) has been bragging about the performance of its diabetes medicine. One television commercial features a man announcing: “Today we’re out here with some big news. Jardiance is the only Type 2 diabetes pill proven to both significantly reduce the chance of dying from a cardiovascular event in adults who have Type 2 diabetes and heart disease AND lower your [Hb]A1c.”

A female voice then rapidly reads a list of possible adverse reactions: “Jardiance can cause serious side effects including dehydration. This may cause you to feel dizzy, faint or lightheaded or weak upon standing.

“Ketoacidosis is a serious side effect that may be fatal. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, tiredness and trouble breathing. Stop taking Jardiance and call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of ketoacidosis or an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include rash, swelling and difficulty breathing or swallowing.

“Do not take Jardiance if you are on dialysis or have severe kidney problems. Other side effects are sudden kidney problems, genital yeast infections, increased bad cholesterol and urinary tract infections, which may be serious.”

These side effects may sound abstract when you hear them on television. But for some readers, they are anything but. One person wrote:

“Jardiance landed me in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s potentially fatal. The medical staff suspected that this med was the culprit, and in fact admitted that they had had a case similar to mine just a few weeks prior.”

Another reader had a different experience with Jardiance: “I recently was hospitalized for a week with severe blood sepsis. The sudden appearance of a kidney stone stopped the flow of urine. I believe it was caused by the drug Jardiance. This drug can cause dehydration and ‘sudden acute kidney injury.’ The elderly are at highest risk.

“I reported this problem to the FDA, but the reporting process is time-consuming. You also have to be very computer savvy. I believe others might be suffering unreported reactions.”

Doctors need to alert patients to the potential risks as well as the benefits. Lowering blood sugar is important, but the ultimate goal is avoiding complications from both prescribed medications and Type 2 diabetes.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. In their column, the Graedons answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

2018 King Features Syndicate

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