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158,00 Dying Yearly from This One Drug and Almost No One Knows It -- Till Now

Sulfonylurea drugs have been prescribed to people with type-2 diabetes for decades. Their purpose is to help control blood sugar levels, which they do by causing your pancreas to secrete more insulin into the blood.

Sulfonylurea drugs, used for decades as a mainstay diabetes treatment, appear to be increasing the risk of cardiovascular death in patients.

However, as it says right on the National Institutes of Health Medline Plus Web site, "The use of sulfonylurea antidiabetic agents has been reported, but not proven in all studies, to increase the risk of death from heart and blood vessel disease."

As it turns out, a study done nearly 40 years ago, published in the journal Diabetes in 1970, found a higher rate of cardiovascular death in patients taking the drugs compared to those taking a placebo.

This finding raised some red flags, but as subsequent studies turned out to be inconclusive, the drugs continued to be commonly prescribed and are still a mainstay for diabetes control.

New research, however, has found even more evidence that sulfonylurea drugs raise the risk of death, and while researchers recognize the seriousness of this finding, no media attention has been devoted to getting the word out.

'Clinicians Should Carefully Assess the Need for Sulfonylurea Therapy'

Jeffrey A. Johnson, Ph.D. and colleagues at the University of Alberta conducted a retrospective study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which found "mortality risk showed a dose-dependent rise, which further suggests a causal link to adverse cardiac events for sulfonylureas."

The researchers examined data from close to 5,800 patients in the Saskatchewan Health databases. All were aged 30 years or older and had received an oral antidiabetic agent at some point from 1991 to 1996. They found:

  • First-generation sulfonylurea users had the highest mortality (67.6 deaths per 1,000 person-years)

  • High-dose users had a greater risk of death than low-dose users

U.S. Sulfonylureas Brand Names

If you are taking any of the following, you should be aware that it is a sulfonylurea drug.

  • Amaryl
  • DiaBeta
  • Diabinese
  • Dymelor
  • Glucotrol
  • Glucotrol XL
  • Glynase PresTab
  • Micronase
  • Orinase
  • Tolinase

"In conclusion, we observed a dose-response relation between sulfonylurea exposure and risk of death," the researchers said. "This evidence, taken within the context of observations collected over the last 30 years, suggests that clinicians should carefully assess the need for sulfonylurea therapy in subjects at high risk of cardiovascular events--particularly now, when several other classes of anti-diabetic oral medications are available."

'Killing Almost 158,000 People Each Year'

In 2001, 32.6 million prescriptions for sulfonylureas were given to Americans. According to Malcolm Kendrick, MD -- in a Red Flags Daily article titled "The Greatest Medical Scandal Ever?" -- this means 2.72 million Americans take sulfonylureas each year (assuming prescriptions are given every month).

If you multiply this by the relative increase in death rate from taking the drugs (29 per 1,000 patients per year), the number of extra deaths in the United States each year that can be attributed to sulfonylureas is 78,880 deaths/year.

"Assuming their use in Europe is similar, we can establish that sulfonylureas are likely to be killing almost 158,000 people each year -- in the U.S. and Europe alone," Kendrick says.

Said diabetes researcher David S. H. Bell, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama in Birmingham:

"[The Canadian findings] add to the existing evidence that suggests that sulfonylureas increase the risk of cardiovascular events; furthermore, their study adds support to a causal link by demonstrating a dose-related effect on the risk of death ... sulfonylurea drugs should therefore be relegated to third-line agents (after metformin and thiazolidinedione drugs) for managing type 2 diabetes."

Numerous Other Side Effects

Like most drugs, sulfonylureas pose the risk of additional side effects. The following, from the National Institutes of Health, are just a sampling:

  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Low blood sugar
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Unusual weight gain
  • Peeling of the skin
  • Chest pain
  • Sore throat
  • General feeling of illness
  • Fever
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

If you or someone you know has type-2 diabetes and may be taking sulfonylurea drugs, please forward this article to them, and consider talking to your physician about alternatives. Many people with type-2 diabetes are able to control their blood sugar levels using diet and exercise alone (but be sure to talk with your physician before making any changes in your program).

Recommended Reading

The Four Most Common Hormone Disorders in Women

What are Salicylates? Could Salicylates be Zapping Your Energy and Making You Feel Ill?


Red Flags Daily: The Greatest Medical Scandal Ever?

Med Page Today January 17, 2006

Canadian Medical Association Journal: Do sulfonylurea drugs increase the risk of cardiac events?

Medline Plus: Antidiabetic Agents

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