Most people need medicine to control their type 2 diabetes.
This helps keep your blood sugar level as normal as possible to prevent health problems.
You may have to take it for the rest of your life, although your medicine or dose may need to change over time.
Adjusting your diet and being active is usually also necessary to keep your blood sugar level down.
Medicines for type 2 diabetes
There are many types of medicine for type 2 diabetes. It can take time to find a medicine and dose that's right for you.
You'll usually be offered a medicine called metformin first.
You may need to take extra medicines, or a different medicine such as insulin, if:
- treatment is not keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range
- you have heart problems or need to lose weight
Your GP or diabetes nurse will recommend the medicines most suitable for you.
Your medicine might not make you feel any different, but this does not mean it's not working. It's important to keep taking it to help prevent future health problems.
Metformin is the most common medicine for type 2 diabetes. It can help keep your blood sugar at a healthy level.
It comes as tablets you take with or after meals.
Common side effects of metformin include feeling or being sick and diarrhoea. If this happens to you, your doctor may suggest trying a different type called slow-release metformin.
Other diabetes medicines
If metformin does not work well enough on its own, you cannot take it or you have other health problems, you may need to take other medicines alongside or instead of metformin.
- other tablets that help lower your blood sugar, such as gliclazide, glimepiride, alogliptin, linagliptin or pioglitazone
- tablets that lower your blood sugar and help your heart pump blood around your body, such as dapagliflozin or empagliflozin
- injections that lower your blood sugar and help you lose weight, such as exenatide or liraglutide
You'll need insulin if other medicines no longer work well enough to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.
Sometimes you may need insulin for a short time, such as if you're pregnant, if you're ill, or to bring your blood sugar level down when you're first diagnosed.
You inject insulin using an insulin pen. This is a device that helps you inject safely and take the right dose.
Using an insulin pen does not usually hurt. The needles are very small, as you only inject a small amount just under your skin. Your diabetes nurse will show you where to inject and how to use your pen.
Your GP or diabetes specialist will recommend the type of insulin treatment that's best for you.
Your diabetes medicine may cause side effects, but most people do not get any.
The side effects you may get depend on which medicines you're taking.
Do not stop taking your medicine if you get side effects. Talk to your doctor, who may suggest trying a different medicine.
Low blood sugar (hypos)
Some diabetes medicines can cause low blood sugar, known as hypoglycaemia or hypos.
If you take medicine that can cause hypos, your doctor might recommend that you check your blood sugar regularly. You'll be given a testing kit and shown how to do a finger-prick test.
If you take insulin at least twice a day and have frequent or severe hypos, you might also be offered a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or flash monitor.
This is a small sensor you wear on your skin that lets you check your blood sugar level at any time.
How to get free prescriptions for diabetes medicine
If you take diabetes medicine, you're entitled to free prescriptions for all your medicines.
To claim your free prescriptions, you'll need to apply for an exemption certificate. This is known as a PF57 form.
To do this:
- fill in a form at your GP surgery
- you should get the certificate in the post about a week later – it'll last for 5 years
- take it to your pharmacy with your prescriptions
Save your receipts if you have to pay for diabetes medicine before you receive your exemption certificate. You can claim the money back if you include the receipts along with your completed PF57 form.
Travelling with diabetes medicines
If you're going on holiday:
- pack extra medicine – speak to your diabetes nurse about how much to take
- carry your medicine in your hand luggage just in case checked-in bags go missing or get damaged
- if you're flying with a medicine you inject, get a letter from your GP that says you need it to treat diabetes
Page last reviewed: 18 August 2020
Next review due: 18 August 2023