1-Minute Consult

Should metformin be used in every patient with type 2 diabetes?

Author and Disclosure Information




The ADA recommends1 continuing metformin after initiating insulin. However, in clinical practice, it is often not done.

Clinical trials have shown that combining metformin with insulin significantly improves glycemic control, prevents weight gain, and decreases insulin requirements.15,16 One trial16 also looked at cardiovascular end points during a 4-year follow-up period; combining metformin with insulin decreased the macrovascular disease-related event rate compared with insulin alone.

In the HOME trial,6 which added metformin to the existing insulin regimen, both groups gained weight, but the metformin group had gained about 3 kg less than the placebo group at the end of the 4.3-year trial. Metformin did not increase the risk of hypoglycemia, but it also did not reduce the risk of microvascular disease.

Concomitant metformin reduces costs

These days, practitioners can choose from a large selection of diabetes drugs. These include insulins with better pharmacokinetic profiles, as well as newer classes of noninsulin agents such as sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors and glucagon-like peptide-1 analogues.

Metformin is less expensive than these newer drugs, and using it concomitantly with other diabetes drugs can decrease their dosage requirements, which in turn decreases their monthly costs.


Metformin’s gastrointestinal adverse effects such as diarrhea, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting are a barrier to its use. The actual incidence rate of diarrhea varies widely in randomized trials and observational studies, and gastrointestinal effects are worse in metformin-naive patients, as well as those who have chronic gastritis or Helicobacter pylori infection.17

We have found that starting metformin at a low dose and up-titrating it over several weeks increases tolerability. We often start patients at 500 mg/day and increase the dosage by 1 500-mg tablet every 1 to 2 weeks. Also, we have noticed that intolerance is more likely in patients who eat a high-carbohydrate diet, but there is no high-level evidence to back this up because patients in clinical trials all undergo nutrition counseling and are therefore more likely to adhere to the low-carbohydrate diet.

Also, the extended-release formulation is more tolerable than the immediate-release formulation and has similar glycemic efficacy. It may be an option as first-line therapy or for patients who have significant adverse effects from immediate-release metformin.18 For patients on the immediate-release formulation, taking it with meals helps lessen some gastrointestinal effects, and this should be emphasized at every visit.

Finally, we limit the metformin dose to 2,000 mg/day, rather than the 2,550 mg/day allowed on labeling. Garber et al19 found that the lower dosage still provides the maximum clinical efficacy.


Metformin should be avoided in patients with acute or unstable heart failure because of the increased risk of lactic acidosis.

It also should be avoided in patients with hepatic impairment, according to the labeling. But this remains controversial in practice. Zhang et al20 showed that continuing metformin in patients with diabetes and cirrhosis decreases the mortality risk by 57% compared with those taken off metformin.

Diet and lifestyle measures need to be emphasized at each visit. Wing et al21 showed that calorie restriction regardless of weight loss is beneficial for glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in obese patients with diabetes.


Metformin improves glycemic control without tending to cause weight gain or hypoglycemia. It may also have cardiovascular benefits. Metformin is an inexpensive agent that should be continued, if tolerated, in those who need additional agents for glycemic control. It should be considered in all adult patients with type 2 diabetes.

Next Article:

Our missing microbes: Short-term antibiotic courses have long-term consequences

Related Articles