Initial combination therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus: is it ready for prime time?

Am J Med. 2011 Jan;124(1 Suppl):S19-34. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.11.003.


The increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus is primarily being driven by the increasing global rates of overweight/obesity. Given the magnitude of this epidemic, we can expect these metabolic abnormalities to play an increasing role in the development of cardiovascular disease. In a pathophysiologic sense, type 2 diabetes is a multiorgan, multifactorial condition, characterized by β-cell dysfunction, insulin resistance in peripheral tissues and the liver, defective incretin activity, and elevated levels of free fatty acids and proinflammatory mediators. Despite the considerable burden of disease associated with type 2 diabetes, most patients are not at, or are unable to achieve, recommended glycemic control guideline targets. In part, this is because of the relentlessly progressive nature of the disease, but it may also be attributable to the current diabetes treatment paradigm, which is characterized by ineffective lifestyle interventions, followed by monotherapy and frequent early treatment failure with prolonged periods of elevated glucose as a consequence of clinical inertia. Thus, it is most appropriate to rethink the current treatment paradigm for type 2 diabetes in the context of a more aggressive initial therapy; specifically with early initiation of combination therapy. Our current understanding of the complex pathophysiology of the disease and the progressive deterioration in glycemic control over time supports the philosophy of earlier intervention with a more comprehensive initial therapy. Thus, while control of hyperglycemia remains the paramount goal, focusing on the underlying pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes is increasingly becoming the therapeutic strategy, with the aim of potentially providing disease modification. Although this is a logical approach, it remains to be demonstrated that early combination therapy will result in disease modification in a clinical setting. Not surprisingly, the incretin-based therapies have gained a great deal of attention in the context of being a component of initial combination therapy, given their potential beneficial effects on β-cell function with lowered risk of weight gain and hypoglycemia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Insulin / therapeutic use*
  • Life Style*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin