Safety and tolerability of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists: unresolved and emerging issues

Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2017 Feb;16(2):227-236. doi: 10.1080/14740338.2017.1268598. Epub 2016 Dec 11.


Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs) are a mainstay of treatment options for type 2 diabetes. They contribute to lowering blood glucose levels, generally have a favorable tolerability profile, and can be used alone or in combination with other antidiabetic agents. Based on the duration of their effects, GLP-1 RAs can be divided into two classes: short-acting and long-acting. Differences exist between these sub-classes, and between each drug, in terms of pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profiles. Therefore, prescribers cannot necessarily assume GLP-1 RA 'class effects', especially in terms of tolerability. Areas covered: This article reviews the published data on the safety and tolerability of currently available GLP-1 RAs and, recognizing the importance of safety profiles when selecting the appropriate treatment for each patient, examines the clinical implications of the differences between the drugs in this class. Cardiovascular safety, gastrointestinal tolerability, and tolerability in elderly patients are discussed as specific areas of interest to prescribers selecting between GLP-1 RAs for their patients. Expert opinion: Although further research is needed, the current evidence offers the potential to tailor treatment more accurately to each patient. Ultimately, this may improve adherence and persistence, thereby improving glycemic control and, in turn, reducing the risk of macro- and micro-vascular complications.

Keywords: Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists; incretin effect; incretins; tolerability and safety; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor / agonists*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Medication Adherence
  • Time Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Hypoglycemic Agents