Background: Pioglitazone is a member of a recently developed class of glucose-lowering agents, the thiazolidinediones, used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus. In the United States, it is approved for use both as monotherapy and in combination with metformin, a sulfonylurea, or insulin; in Europe, it is approved for use in combination with metformin or a sulfonylurea but not insulin.
Objective: This article presents a systematic review of the published literature on the effectiveness of pioglitazone in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, both as monotherapy and in combination with other antidiabetic agents.
Methods: The peer-reviewed English- and foreign-language literature was searched using MEDLINE, PubMED, EMBASE, Science Citation Index, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, the UK National Health Service Centre for Reviews and Dissemination databases, and the Office of Health Economics Health Economic Evaluations Database. Searches were not limited to specific publication types, study designs, dates, or languages. The latest search was performed in March 2001. For a trial to be included in the review, at least 1 outcome measure had to involve the effects of pioglitazone on glycemic control or cardiovascular risk factors, or its side effects. Because of the heterogeneity of studies, no formal meta-analysis was performed.
Results: Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria, 6 involving pioglitazone monotherapy and 5 involving combination therapy. Full reports were available for only 6 of the 11 studies. No studies directly compared pioglitazone with other antidiabetic drugs. Both as monotherapy and in combination therapy, pioglitazone produced decreases in blood glucose levels (up to 95 mg/dL) and glycosylated hemoglobin (up to 2.6%). At doses of > or = 30 mg/d, pioglitazone was associated with reductions in triglyceride levels (-30-70 mg/dL) and increases in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels (-4-5 mg/dL). Pioglitazone treatment was associated with significant weight gain (up to 4 kg over 16 weeks). Adverse effects included mild edema (in up to 11.7% of patients) and a clinically nonsignificant decrease in hemoglobin concentrations. Abnormal results on liver function testing were no more common in treated patients than in control groups.
Conclusions: Pioglitazone has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Although the observed decreases in triglyceride levels and increases in HDL-C levels could be expected to lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk, the effects of weight gain may counteract this benefit. The evidence suggests that the preferred role for pioglitazone may be as an adjunct to metformin or a sulfonylurea in patients whose condition is not well controlled with monotherapy and for whom a metformin-sulfonylurea combination is contraindicated. There is a need for large-scale, long-term studies comparing the effectiveness of combination therapy that includes pioglitazone with that of other combinations of antidiabetic drugs.