Diabetes medications may be associated with pancreatitis

People who take a certain type of diabetes medication to lower their blood sugar may be at increased risk of developing pancreatic inflammation, according to a new study.

The glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) treatment method includes exenatide and sitagliptin, which were previously associated with pancreatitis in studies in animals and small patient groups, the lead author of the study said.   

“New treatments and risks are being evaluated in our study. We need to know if the drugs are effective in lowering blood sugar, but we also need to know about the risks associated with taking them,” said Dr. Sonal Singh, of the medical Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore.

Pancreatitis, which can cause life-threatening complications, is a rare disease, but more common in people with type 2 diabetes. Singh said pancreatitis occurs in about three out of 1,000 patients with diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are about 19 million people across the country diagnosed with diabetes, and another 7 million who have the disease, but do not yet know about it. In people with type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or is resistant to it.

For a new study, scientists used data on 1269 patients with diabetes aged 18 to 64 years old who were hospitalized in US hospitals with pancreatitis in 2005-2008. They found that 87% of patients with pancreatitis took GLP-1 therapy, compared with 58% of patients with diabetes without pancreatitis.

The results show that drugs are associated with a doubling of the risk of developing pancreatitis – about six cases per 1000 patients with diabetes.

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