Sulfonylureas for Type 2 Diabetes


Generic Name Brand Name
chlorpropamide Diabinese
glimepiride Amaryl
glipizide Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL
glyburide DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase

Sulfonylureas are also available in combination pills. Glyburide is combined with the biguanide medicine metformin (Glucovance). Glipizide is combined with metformin (Metaglip). Glimepiride is combined with the thiazolidinedione medicines rosiglitazone (Avandaryl) and pioglitazone (Duetact).

How they work

Sulfonylurea medicines increase the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas, and insulin lowers blood sugar.

Why they are used

Sulfonylurea medicines are prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes when eating healthy foods, weight loss, and exercise do not keep the blood sugar level within a target range. They are helpful for people who cannot make enough insulin or who have become resistant to the insulin the body makes.

These medicines can help control blood sugar levels in children and young adults who have type 2 diabetes and are overweight.

How well they work

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can get worse over time, so medicines may need to change.

Diabetes medicines work best for people who are being active and eating healthy foods.

Side effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Seizures.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Signs of low blood sugar (sweating, feeling nervous, dizziness, and/or confusion).
  • Hunger.
  • Weight gain.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What to think about

Sulfonylurea medicines increase insulin levels even if you have not eaten food. Watch for symptoms of low blood sugar, especially if you drink alcohol.

People with kidney or liver problems might not be able to take sulfonylurea medicines.

Skin can be more easily sunburned when taking tolbutamide or tolazamide. Chlorpropamide can cause a skin rash.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Sulfonylurea medicines are an effective treatment for many people who have type 2 diabetes. If one of these medicines keeps your blood sugar within a target range, your risks of long-term complications of diabetes can be reduced. Other important factors that contribute to complications include high blood pressure , being overweight, high cholesterol levels, and smoking.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Theresa O'Young, PharmD - Clinical Pharmacy
David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology

Current as ofJune 23, 2016