Background: Type 2 diabetes mellitus typically involves abnormal beta-cell function that results in relative insulin deficiency, insulin resistance accompanied by decreased glucose transport into muscle and fat cells, and increased hepatic glucose output, all of which contribute to hyperglycemia.
Objective: This review examines the pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, drug-interaction potential, adverse effects, and dosing guidelines for metformin hydrochloride, a biguanide agent for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Clinical trial data are reviewed, including efficacy and tolerability information, with a focus on studies of dual metformin therapy (metformin plus another oral agent or insulin) published from 1998 to the present. Pharmacoeconomic considerations are also discussed.
Methods: Primary research and review articles were identified through a search of MEDLINE (1966-May 2003) and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-May 2003) using the terms metformin and/or Glucophage. Web of Science (1995-May 2003) was used to search for additional abstracts. The package inserts for metformin and metformin combination products were consulted. All identified articles and abstracts were assessed for relevance, and all relevant information was included. Priority was given to the primary medical literature and clinical trial reports.
Results: Metformin is the only currently available oral antidiabetic/hypoglycemic agent that acts predominantly by inhibiting hepatic glucose release. Because patients with type 2 diabetes often have excess hepatic glucose output, use of metformin is effective in lowering glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) by 1 to 2 percentage points when used as monotherapy or in combination with other blood glucose-lowering agents or insulin. Other metabolic variables (eg, dyslipidemia, fibrinolysis) may be improved with the use of metformin. Body weight is often maintained or slightly reduced from baseline. Metformin is well tolerated and is associated with few clinically deleterious adverse events. The most important and potentially life-threatening adverse event associated with its use is lactic acidosis, which occurs very rarely.
Conclusions: Metformin has multiple benefits in patients with type 2 diabetes. It can effectively lower HbA1c values, positively affect lipid profiles, and improve vascular and hemodynamic indices. Adverse effects are generally tolerable and self-limiting. The availability of products combining metformin with a sulfonylurea or rosiglitazone has expanded the array of therapies for the management of type 2 diabetes.