Background: Metformin is usually prescribed as first line therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2). However, the benefits and risks of metformin may be different for older people. This systematic review examined the available evidence on the safety and efficacy of metformin in the management of DM2 in older adults. The findings were used to develop recommendations for the electronic decision support tool of the European project PRIMA-eDS.
Methods: The systematic review followed a staged approach, initially searching for systematic reviews and meta-analyses first, and then individual studies when prior searches were inconclusive. The target population was older people (≥65 years old) with DM2. Studies were included if they reported safety or efficacy outcomes with metformin (alone or in combination) for the management of DM2 compared to placebo, usual or no treatment, or other antidiabetics. Using the evidence identified, recommendations were developed using GRADE methodology.
Results: Fifteen studies were included (4 intervention and 11 observational studies). In ten studies at least 80% of participants were 65 years or older and 5 studies reported subgroup analyses by age. Comorbidities were reported by 9 studies, cognitive status was reported by 4 studies and functional status by 1 study. In general, metformin showed similar or better safety and efficacy than other specific or non-specific active treatments. However, these findings were mainly based on retrospective observational studies. Four recommendations were developed suggesting to discontinue the use of metformin for the management of DM2 in older adults with risk factors such as age > 80, gastrointestinal complaints during the last year and/or GFR ≤60 ml/min.
Conclusions: On the evidence available, the safety and efficacy profiles of metformin appear to be better, and certainly no worse, than other treatments for the management of DM2 in older adults. However, the quality and quantity of the evidence is low, with scarce data on adverse events such as gastrointestinal complaints or renal failure. Further studies are needed to more reliably assess the benefits and risks of metformin in very old (>80), cognitively and functionally impaired older people.
Keywords: Elder; Elderly; Inappropriate prescribing; Metformin; Older people; Systematic review; Type 2 diabetes mellitus.