Careful use to minimize adverse events of oral antidiabetic medications in the elderly

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2021 Apr 13;1-17. doi: 10.1080/14656566.2021.1912735. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: An increasing number of older patients has type 2 diabetes treated with different oral antidiabetic agents whose safety may raise concern considering some particularities of a heterogeneous elderly population.

Areas covered: This article discusses some characteristics of older patients that could increase the risk of adverse events, with a focus on hypoglycemia. It describes the most frequent and/or severe complications reported in the elderly in both randomized controlled trials and observational studies with metformin, sulfonylureas, meglitinides, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, thiazolidinediones, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors (gliptins) and sodium-glucose cotransporter type 2 inhibitors (gliflozins).

Expert opinion: Old patients may present comorbidities (renal impairment, vascular disease, heart failure, risk of dehydration, osteoporosis, cognitive dysfunction) that could increase the risk of severe adverse events. Sulfonylureas (and meglitinides) induce hypoglycemia, which may be associated with falls/fractures and cardiovascular events. Medications lacking hypoglycemia should be preferred. Gliptins appear to have the best tolerance/safety profile whereas gliflozins exert a cardiorenal protection. However, data are lacking in very old or frailty old patients so that caution and appropriate supervision of such patients are required. Taking advantage of a large choice of pharmacotherapies, personalized treatment is recommended based upon both drug safety profiles and old patient individual characteristics.

Keywords: Antidiabetic agents; elderly; hypoglycemia; individualized therapy; safety; type 2 diabetes.