Medicines for type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes may need medicines in addition to dietary changes and physical activity if these alone don't adequately control blood glucose levels.

Controlling diabetes is essential

There are three main reasons to treat type 2 diabetes with medicines:

  • to relieve the symptoms of diabetes, including increased thirst and needing to urinate frequently
  • to keep blood glucose as close as possible to recommended levels (ie, 6.1–8.0 millimoles [mmol] per litre [L] before a meal and 6.0–10.0 mmol/L after a meal)
  • to reduce the risk of developing the complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, kidney disease, eye conditions, and foot and leg problems.

Anyone using medicines to control their diabetes should also follow a healthy, balanced diet and be physically active. This can help to maintain a healthy weight and may improve blood glucose control, reduce the need for medicines, and help to prevent some of the long-term complications of diabetes.

What medicine will you need for type 2 diabetes?

Everyone with type 2 diabetes will need different types and doses of medicine according to their symptoms and their individual needs. The medicines you take may need to change during pregnancy, illness, or during and after surgery.

There are many types of medicines for controlling type 2 diabetes – each with their own benefits and side effects. Each type of medicine works in a different way to control blood glucose levels.

Note about medicine names

Most medicines have two names: the active ingredient and the brand name. The active ingredient is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The brand name is the name given to the medicine by its manufacturer. There may be several brands that contain the same active ingredient. This website uses active ingredient names, with brand names in brackets. We also discuss medicines in groups or 'classes', when their effects or actions are very similar.

Because you may be offered different brands at the pharmacist, knowing your active ingredient (or where to find it) can avoid mix-ups. To find out more, read our information about active ingredients and brand names.

Metformin, sulfonylureas and insulin are all medicines commonly prescribed for diabetes. These medicines have all been used for many years and have been shown to reduce the complications of diabetes – a very important benefit of these medicines.

Other medicines used to treat diabetes include:

If you have type 2 diabetes and have been recommended insulin by your health professional, read or download our fact sheet Thinking about starting insulin? This leaflet answers some of the questions – and addresses some of the myths – about starting insulin.

It is important for you to tell your doctor about all the medicines you are taking – prescription, over-the-counter and complementary (herbal/'natural'/vitamin/mineral) medicines – as some medicines may interact with diabetes medicines and affect blood glucose control.

Make sure to take your medicine as prescribed

Taking your medicine exactly as prescribed should improve your blood glucose control, which will give you more energy, better sleep and fewer days off work. It can also help prevent, delay  or minimise your risk of developing complications of type 2 diabetes.

Because type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition you may eventually need to take additional diabetes medicines to help control your blood glucose levels. Taking your medicine as prescribed from the beginning may help delay this need for extra blood glucose-lowering treatment.

If you experience unpleasant side effects, do not stop taking your medicine. Talk to your health professional, as they may be able to alter the dose, timing, formulation or medicine to minimise adverse effects.

If you have trouble remembering or managing your medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist about dosing aids, such as Webster packs or dossette boxes, or use a reminder system like the MedicineList+ smartphone app to help you remember.

Your diabetes medicines may change over time

Over time, the medicines you are prescribed for type 2 diabetes may change depending on  your age and health,  other medicines you are taking and how long you have had diabetes.

For example, a single medicine – like metformin – may control blood glucose levels initially. But this may change as your diabetes progresses or your circumstances change. At some point, more than one medicine, each containing a different active ingredient – for example, metformin and a sulfonylurea – may be necessary to control blood glucose levels adequately. For some people, insulin, or a combination of tablets and insulin may be the best choice. For more information about a specific diabetes medicine, search the list of Consumer Medicine Information leaflets by your medicine's brand name.

Find out about brand names.

Help with managing your medicines

If you are taking several medicines, you may find a Home Medicines Review by a pharmacist useful in managing your medicines.

A medicines list can help you keep track of all the medicines you are taking, including prescription, over-the-counter, herbal and natural medicines. Make sure that you:

  • keep it up to date by removing any medicines you are no longer using and adding new medicines as you start using them
  • take it with you each time you visit your doctor, pharmacist or health professional, or if you go into hospital
  • keep it with you at all times in case of emergency.

Find out more and print a Medicines List, or download our free MedicineList+ smartphone app.

Phone for medicines information

Call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to get information about your prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, 'natural', vitamins and mineral supplements) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia.