The biguanide, metformin, sensitizes the liver to the effect of insulin, suppressing hepatic glucose output. Thiazolidinediones such as rosiglitazone and pioglitazone enhance insulin-mediated glucose disposal, leading to reduced plasma insulin concentrations. These classes of drugs may also have varying beneficial effects on features of insulin resistance such as lipid levels, blood pressure and body weight. Metformin in combination with insulin has been shown to significantly improve blood glucose levels while lowering total daily insulin dose and body weight. The thiazolidinediones in combination with insulin have also been effective in lowering blood glucose levels and total daily insulin dose. Triple combination therapy using insulin, metformin and a thiazolidinedione improves glycaemic control to a greater degree than dual therapy using insulin and metformin or insulin and a thiazolidinedione. There is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of metformin or thiazolidinediones in type 1 diabetic patients. Although these agents are largely well tolerated, some subjects experience significant gastrointestinal problems while using metformin. Metformin is associated with a low risk of lactic acidosis, but should not be used in patients with elevated serum creatinine or those being treated for congestive heart failure. The thiazolidinediones are associated with an increase in body weight, although this can be avoided with careful lifestyle management. Thiazolidinediones may also lead to oedema and are associated with a low incidence of hepatocellular injury. Thiazolidinediones are contraindicated in patients with underlying heart disease who are at risk of congestive heart failure and in patients who have abnormal hepatic function. The desired blood glucose-lowering effect and adverse event profiles of these agents should be considered when recommending these agents to diabetic patients. The potential for metformin or the thiazolidinediones to impact long-term cardiovascular outcomes remains under investigation.