When Can I Stop My Type 2 Diabetes Medication?

Many people with Type 2 diabetes will need regular treatment, while others will be able to manage their condition with diet and exercise alone.

March, 2021

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Type 2 diabetes is a chronic, long-term condition. There is no cure, but it can be managed. Your diabetes medicine helps you to keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range, but it does not fix the underlying problem.

Most people with Type 2 diabetes take medicine regularly. Many will need to continue with treatment for the rest of their lives, others will be able to manage their condition with diet and exercise alone.

Sometimes, people can reverse their Type 2 diabetes, or put it into remission. That means that they have normal blood sugar levels and no longer need their medication, however, doctors do not know how long remission lasts or if everyone can achieve it.

Why do I need medication for my Type 2 diabetes?

Doctors do not know why some people develop Type 2 diabetes while others don’t, but it is connected to being overweight.

Glucose is the body’s main energy source. The liver makes some, but we also get it from the food we eat. In healthy people, carbohydrates get broken down into glucose in the gut, and delivered to the cells in the blood. Insulin makes sure there is always the right amount of glucose in the blood.

If someone has Type 2 diabetes, this process does not work properly. Doctors call this insulin resistance. As a result, they can have too much sugar in their blood. Over time, this damages the blood vessels, leading to long-term complications like heart disease, stroke, eye, and nerve damage.

Along with diet and exercise, medication helps people with their blood sugar control.

Metformin is one of the most common medicines for people with Type 2 diabetes. It works in three ways:

  • restricts the amount of glucose the liver releases into the blood
  • restricts the amount of glucose absorbed by the gut from food
  • helps the body to use the insulin it has more effectively – doctors call this insulin sensitivity

Most people will start to feel a lot better once they have their diabetes under control but that means their medicine and care plan are working.

The medication is not a cure. It doesn’t fix the body’s problem with making or using insulin, rather it helps the body to deal with the effects of Type 2 diabetes.

Can I stop taking my Type 2 diabetes medication?

Lots of people would like to stop taking their medication, you experience side effects, such as diarrhoea, vomiting, flatulence, weight loss, or vitamin B-12 deficiency. Others find it just gets in the way of their life.

It is possible to manage blood glucose levels with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes but it is important to understand that coming off treatment can make your symptoms worse. Remember, high blood sugar levels can lead to serious long-term complications.

What do I have to do to stop taking my Type 2 diabetes medication?

The most important thing is to speak to your healthcare team. They will not be able to give you a stop date or even tell you if it is possible but they will help you put together a plan that gives you the best chance.

Healthy habits are the best way to control blood sugar levels independently of medication. That means:

  • eating a healthy balanced diet that avoids sugary and processed foods. This keeps blood sugar levels stable and helps the body to use insulin more effectively
  • exercise makes the body use more glucose as fuel, lowering the amount circulating in the blood. It also helps train the body to use insulin more effectively

Not smoking and avoiding alcohol will also help to control the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.

What about remission or reversal?

If you are overweight and newly diagnosed, you may be able to put your condition into remission through a combination of diet and exercise. That means having normal blood sugar levels and not needing to take medication. It is important to note, though, that doctors do not know if it is possible for everyone, or how long it lasts.

According to Diabetes UK, losing around 15kg can significantly increase someone’s chances of achieving remission – which the charity describes a HbA1c of below 48mmol/mol or 6.5% for at least six months.

The current evidence shows remission is more likely in people who lose a substantial amount of weight as quickly as possible after diagnosis, with the help of their healthcare team.

What else do I need to know?

You should never stop taking your medicine without speaking to your healthcare team first.

Being able to stop your Type 2 diabetes medication takes hard work and commitment. You will need to maintain your healthy habits over the long-term to keep your blood sugar level under control.

What’s more, you may need to start your medication again in the future. But that does not mean you have failed. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, meaning it tends to get worse over time.

That is why it is crucial to stay in touch with your diabetes doctor or nurse, even if you are not taking any medication. They will help your blood glucose levels under control and stay healthy.