Acarbose for type 2 diabetes

Acarbose (eg, Glucobay) is a medicine used for type 2 diabetes.

Most medicines have two names: the active ingredient and the brand name. The active ingredient (acarbose) is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The brand name (eg, Glucobay) is the name given to the medicine by its manufacturer.

What does acarbose do?

Acarbose works by preventing the carbohydrate you eat from being broken down into glucose, so delaying glucose absorption in the intestine and preventing glucose from entering the blood too quickly.

What are the benefits of taking acarbose?

Acarbose has been tested in clinical trials, and has been shown to lower glucose levels in the blood. It has been available for many years, but because it is only used by a small number of people with type 2 diabetes for whom other diabetes medicines are unsuitable, there is not enough information to know if it reduces the long-term complications of diabetes (such as heart disease or stroke).

Acarbose can be used alone or added to other diabetes medicines (eg, metformin, sulfonylureas and insulin).

Who can take acarbose?

Acarbose  is used by a small number of people with type 2 diabetes for whom other diabetes medicines are unsuitable.

Acarbose is not suitable for people with:

  • severe kidney disease
  • bowel problems (eg, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) or gut (intestinal) obstruction.

What are the side effects of acarbose?

Common side effects with acarbose (Glucobay) include:

  • flatulence (wind), stomach pain and bloating, and diarrhoea
  • inability to digest carbohydrates other than glucose when blood sugar is low (hypoglycaemia).

Rarely, acarbose can also cause liver problems, skin reactions, and swelling due to fluid build-up (oedema), blockage of the small and/or large intestine (ileus), and anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells).


It is important to tell your health professional about all the medicines you are taking — including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) — as they may interact with diabetes medicines and affect your blood glucose levels. This may mean that your doctor will need to adjust your dose of acarbose, or make changes to your other medicines.

Some medicines are known to affect blood glucose levels. Click on the following links to view tables that list some of these medicines:

Apart from these, other medicines that may interact with acarbose include:*

  • neomycin — an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections — may increase the stomach side effects of acarbose
  • warfarin — used to treat blood clots — acarbose may affect the way warfarin works
  • digoxin — used to treat heart failure — acarbose may prevent digoxin being absorbed
  • cholestyramine — used to treat high cholesterol — may increase the glucose lowering effects of acarbose.

*As there are often many different brands of one medicine, we have only listed the active ingredients of the medicines here. To find out more, read our information about active ingredients and brand names.

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.