Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitors

What are alpha-glucosidase inhibitors?

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are a class of medications that may be prescribed to treat people who have type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that transports glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and into the cells. Glucose provides the energy that fuels the cells. When you consume glucose in foods and drinks, the blood sugar level will increase until insulin transports it out of your bloodstream. Certain foods, such as those high in carbohydrates, can cause your blood sugar level to increase more than others.

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors can help to reduce your blood sugar levels. This type of medication does not have a direct effect on the amount of insulin your body produces, or how effectively it uses insulin. Instead these medications work by affecting the way that your body digests carbohydrates. They delay the absorption of carbohydrates until later in the digestive process.2 This reduces the increase in blood sugar levels that consuming carbohydrates can cause. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are sold under the brand names:

What is Glyset (miglitol)?

Glyset is an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor medication that contains the active ingredient called miglitol. It works by blocking the activity of certain enzymes in the intestines that are involved in absorbing and digesting carbohydrates from foods you eat. By blocking those enzymes, Glyset can slow down the rate at which the glucose in carbohydrates enters the blood stream. This can reduce the increase in blood sugar levels that often occurs after eating carbohydrates.

The AACE guidelines recommend that Glyset is suitable for people with type 2 diabetes who:

  • Have tried unsuccessfully to manage their blood sugar with lifestyle therapy (healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss) and need to try a diabetes medication
  • Have tried to control their blood sugar with one or more other diabetes medications for several months, but now need to add on another medication

Glyset is an oral medication taken in tablet form. Glyset can be used by adults with type 2 diabetes, and should be used in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical exercise. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about how to take Glyset. Most people will take it at the beginning of each of the three main meals.

Some of the most common side effects in some people in taking Glyset are:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Soft stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort

Glyset itself will not cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), but hypoglycemia can occur if you take Glyset in addition to insulin or a sulfonylurea medication. Talk with your healthcare provider about the symptoms of hypoglycemia so you can be prepared to treat it, if it occurs. Do not take Glyset (miglitol) if you are allergic to it or any of the ingredients found in it. Also talk to your healthcare provider about potential drug interactions before starting therapy or if you experience any side effects.

What is Precose (acarbose)?

Precose is an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor with the active ingredient acarbose. It works by blocking the activity of certain enzymes in the intestines that are involved in absorbing and digesting carbohydrates from foods you eat. By blocking those enzymes, Precose can slow down the rate at which the glucose in carbohydrates enters the blood stream. This can reduce the increase in blood sugar levels that often occurs after eating carbohydrates.

The AACE guidelines recommend that Precose is suitable for people with type 2 diabetes who:

  • Have tried unsuccessfully to manage their blood sugar with lifestyle therapy (healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss) and need to try a diabetes medication
  • Have tried to control their blood sugar with one or more other diabetes medications for several months, but now need to add on another medication

Precose is taken by mouth in tablet form. It is generally used in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular physical exercise. Most people will take Precose three times a day, at the beginning of every main meal. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking Precose and for monitoring your blood sugar levels while taking Precose.

Some of the most common side effects in people taking Precose are:

  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal discomfort

Some people who take Precose at the same time as insulin or a sulfonylurea medication may develop dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Talk with your healthcare provider about how to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia and how to treat it quickly. Do not take Glyset (miglitol) if you are allergic to it or any of the ingredients found in it. Also talk to your healthcare provider about potential drug interactions before starting therapy or if you experience any side effects.

Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: April 2017
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