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Diabetes Medications That Treat Heart Disease, Too

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If you have diabetes, you are more likely to develop heart disease. Over time, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and heart, putting you at a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke — the most common causes of death for adults with diabetes.  

The good news is that there are diabetes drugs that have the happy side effect of also treating heart disease. While these medications aren’t new, the discovery that certain diabetes drugs can thwart heart disease is a recent development.

Heart-Healthy Discovery

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required glucose-lowering diabetes drugs to undergo testing to prove they weren’t negatively impacting heart health. “Turns out, some of the medications were not only safe for the heart but actually helped prevent heart disease,” says Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “That’s a tremendous benefit that we didn’t know about before. It gives us a whole new set of options in the fight against heart disease.”

Thwarting Heart Disease

There are two classes of type 2 diabetes medications that have received approval to treat heart disease. “Patients who take these drugs have their risk of death from heart disease greatly reduced in the span of just a few years, which is remarkable,” Blaha reports.

One of the medications is empagliflozin, which belongs to a class of drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors that lower glucose, or blood sugar, by helping the body excrete it in urine. They also prevent excess fluid from building up in the body, which reduces the risk of developing heart failure.

The other medication that received FDA approval to be used for heart disease is liraglutide, an injectable drug in the glucagonlike peptide 1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RA) class. It helps your pancreas release the proper amount of insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. But it also makes you feel full longer, can lead to weight loss and reduces your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Disease Drug Therapy Recommendations

Currently, both empagliflozin and liraglutide are only approved to treat or prevent heart disease in people with diabetes. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor about these medications to see if they’re right for you.

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