Can Certain Type 2 Diabetes Medicines Protect Your Heart?

Can Certain Type 2 Diabetes Medicines Protect Your Heart?

Learn how some type 2 diabetes medications may help protect your heart from cardiovascular disease.

People with type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of numerous forms of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart attacks and stroke. When heart disease occurs alongside diabetes, or because of diabetes, it is sometimes called diabetic heart disease.

If you have type 2 diabetes, keeping your blood glucose levels at goal is an important step to protecting yourself from cardiovascular disease, as well as other diabetes complications, like chronic kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy. It is also important to monitor and manage other risk factors such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure and excess bodyweight.

In addition to making lifestyle changes—such as exercising, eating a healthy diet and giving up unhealthy habits like smoking—your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to help you manage type 2 diabetes and get your numbers to goal. Some diabetes drugs may have the added benefit of protecting your heart from the effects of cardiovascular disease.

Metformin is an oral medication that is typically the first-line drug prescribed for someone who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It’s a popular choice among healthcare providers and patients because it is effective and has a low risk of side effects. It is also inexpensive. Metformin works by decreasing the amount of glucose made in the liver, decreasing the amount of glucose absorbed in the gut and increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Metformin can be taken as a stand-alone medication or may be prescribed to use in combination with other diabetes drugs.

Research suggests that taking metformin for type 2 diabetes may lower a person’s risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, though more research is needed before a recommendation can be made. Researchers have also started to investigate the possibility of using metformin as a treatment for cardiovascular disease in people who do not have type 2 diabetes, but there is currently no conclusive opinion, and metformin is only approved for treating diabetes.

Diabetes drugs for patients with CVD
There are currently two diabetes medications available that are approved by the FDA specifically for patients with type 2 diabetes who have cardiovascular disease. These are:

  • Empagliflozin: This medication is part of a category of drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter-2 inhibitors, or SGLT2 inhibitors, which prevent the kidneys from absorbing glucose so that excess glucose can be expelled in urine. It is taken orally, once a day, and can be used on its own or in combination with other medications. It is indicated to reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. Because it affects kidney function, it is not an appropriate choice for patients with kidney disease.
  • Liraglutide: This medication is given by injection, and is a glucagonlike peptide 1 receptor agonist (GLP-1 RA), a type of medication that helps the pancreas make more insulin, prevents the liver from making too much glucose, and slows gastric emptying. It is usually taken in combination with other diabetes medications. It is indicated to reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease.

Both of these medications are also approved for treating type 2 diabetes in patients who do not have cardiovascular disease. Researchers are continuing to look for new ways to help treat cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.

Work with your healthcare provider
Remember, there is no cure for type 2 diabetes and not every diabetes medication is right for every patient. No one thing will control your blood glucose levels or protect your heart from cardiovascular disease—keeping diabetes under control and keeping your heart healthy requires numerous steps. Work on living a healthy lifestyle that includes eating the right foods and exercising. Take your medications as directed by your healthcare provider. Meet with your healthcare provider regularly to evaluate how well your treatment plan is working, and what adjustments or additional steps you can take to keep your numbers at goal and protect yourself from diabetes complications.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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