Patients and Attitudes
I was riding in an elevator with a rheumatologist a few years ago. He told me that my patients were all “fat” and “responsible for their situation.” I told him an elevator ride could not cover the amount of education he needed, so I invited him to call me. There are many reasons why people develop T2D and carrying too much weight is a significant one. We tell our patients that this extra weight puts stress on the natural production of insulin. The result is that less organic insulin is produced so more manufactured insulin is prescribed, and this puts weight on the patient.
Patients have busy lives, and those with diabetes are no different; their lives get in the way of managing their disease. Some need to remember to take 3 or 4 injections a day. They forget an injection at lunch because their routine has been disrupted; they forget at bedtime because they fell asleep on the sofa. Or they had to feed their children dinner quickly to make it to a teacher’s meeting, so they forgot their medication. But it is vital that they maintain their insulin injection schedule. Research says missing 2.1 meal-related injections a week increases glycated hemoglobin (A1c) by 0.3% to 0.4%.
Most people with T2D will eventually need insulin. For someone with diabetes – and for their family members – hypoglycemia is a real fear. Hypoglycemia has significant physical (eg, irregular heartbeat, shakiness) and mental (eg, anxiety, irritability) effects. In response, patients can treat themselves with glucose tablets or simple carbohydrates (between 15 and 30 g). If the patient is unconscious, the family may need to use injectable glucagon. This is where the benefits of a continuous glucose monitor come in.
Patients can see the hypoglycemic state they are approaching so they can treat a low blood glucose level on their own before others need to.
Our clinic members focus on having open, honest conversations with our patients about how their lives affect their diabetes. We encourage them to choose a nutrition plan or see our dietitian. Some do phenomenally well with plans like Weight Watchers, but others do not. Whatever they choose, our dietitians aim to help them stay on it, with weekly check-ins, teleconferences, and appointments.
Communication goes both ways. Our patients tell us constantly that they do not want another medication. Diabetes is an expensive disease, and most of our patients take at least 5 medications, prescribed by nephrologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists, and family physicians. Our clinical pharmacists and other team members try to find ways to bring those costs down; sometimes we cannot.
It is not a bad idea to keep a flowchart on your phone that details which diabetes drug is applicable under which circumstances, and when it is not applicable. While most are complementary, a list would detail how each of the new medications work, how they work together and how they benefit patients.
Some wisdom learned in the trenches:
- Do not shy away from starting a newly diagnosed patient on metformin and a second agent. The American Diabetes Association guidelines say that more intensive initial treatment can be beneficial. If the patient’s A1c is elevated, consider using 2 medications upon diagnosis.
- Using a sulfonylurea, which stimulates insulin secretion, as a second-line therapy alone can increase risk of myocardial infarction, all-cause mortality, and severe hypoglycemia (hazard ratios, 1.26, 1.28, and 7.60, respectively); these medications also cause weight gain . The sulfonylureas put pressure on the beta cells to work harder. More importantly, we do not know what these medications do to the cardiovascular system in the long term.
- If the patient has cardiovascular disease, then, in combination with metformin, use a glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonist (GLP-1) or a sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor. If the patient has kidney disease, start with an SGLT2 inhibitor. And yes, you can prescribe both at the same time.
- SGLT2 inhibitors lower glucose levels by preventing the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose. The GLP-1 agonists encourage insulin production and inhibit glucagon secretion after meals. Neither of these medications are known to add weight; they are linked with weight loss.
- If your patient is on a dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitor and is moving to a GLP-1 receptor agonist, stop the DDP-4 before starting the GLP-1 since both target the incretin system to control blood glucose levels.