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What are sulfonylurea drugs?

One class of diabetes oral medications are sulfonylurea drugs. The effects of sulfonylurea drugs on blood glucose levels were discovered by accident in the 1940s (they were used as antibacterial drugs during World War II). Sulfonylureas lower blood glucose levels by encouraging the pancreas to produce and release more insulin. Scientists have many leads on how these drugs accomplish this. Seven different sulfonylureas are prescribed in this country: glyburide (Glynase PresTab, or Micronase), glipizide (Glucotrol or Glucotrol XL), glimepiride (Amaryl), chlorpropamide (Diabinese). Until 1994, sulfonylureas were the only oral medication for type 2 diabetes available to Americans.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Sulfonylureas lower blood glucose by stimulating beta cells in the pancreas to release insulin. Sulfonylureas are taken by mouth. They may be prescribed alone or in combination with other diabetes drugs.

Several sulfonylureas are available in the US. These include glimepiride (Amaryl), glipizide (Glucotrol), glyburide (Diabeta, Glynase), acetohexamide, chlorpropamide (Diabinese), tolazamide, and tolbutamide. Some other products combine a sulfonylurea with another diabetes drug such as metformin in a single pill. 

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