There are a few fears of side effects attached to Metformin because it can cause lactic acidosis, especially when used with other metabolic medications and in those experiencing acute illness or trauma. This severe complication is usually rare – occurring in less than 1 percent of all patients, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it’s still one that should be on your radar screen if you’re taking Metformin or haven’t even started treatment yet.
Surprisingly, even though Metformin is a common medication used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, it has been known to cause lactic acidosis. This condition occurs when the oxygen supply in your blood is decreased, causing increased production of lactate (lactic acids) that can build up in your bloodstream and inhibit cellular respiration. The result? Severe hypoxia – which can then lead to more serious problems like damage to organs, multiple organ failure, brain damage, or death.
Lactate buildup isn’t limited just to people who take Metformin for type 2 diabetes; other medications that may increase the risk of developing lactic acidosis include ACE inhibitors Diuretics Insulin Corticosteroids Chemotherapeutics (treatments used to fight cancer), Phenytoin (an anti-epileptic medication), Fluconazole and itraconazole (anti-fungal medications). In rare cases Foscarnet, I.V. pentamidine, amphotericin B, flucytosine, chloramphenicol, and niacin.
The symptoms of lactic acidosis can vary widely from case to case; you might experience abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting that don’t respond to typical treatments. You may also have shortness of breath when resting or be unable to catch your breath at all. If these latter problems occur together with mental confusion and a decreased level of consciousness, it’s time to contact your medical provider immediately. While in some cases the risk of this condition is very low, recognizing the symptoms and knowing what to do if you experience them can make a huge difference.
Lactic acidosis seems to be the underlying issue revolving around metformin since its discovery. Let’s some time to understand what it is and why it affects users.
What is lactic acidosis?
When the body doesn’t have enough oxygen (hypoxia), a dangerous phenomenon called lactic acidosis can occur. While it’s possible to experience this dangerous condition on its own, lactic acidosis occurs more often when certain medications are used in combination with low oxygen levels (hypoxemia).
The “good” news is that lactic acidosis is usually treatable if you get proper care right away. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes have underlying heart and lung problems that may make them more sensitive to the symptoms of lactic acidosis, so they might not recognize these symptoms until it’s too late. In fact, by the time most patients realize something is wrong; they already have critical hypoxia going on! It’s a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention to avoid death.
Who Should take Metformin?
Predominantly, this is a medication for type 2 diabetes patients. Metformin is also recommended for people who are overweight and others who are not candidates for gastric bypass surgery. It works to help lower blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity in your liver and decreasing glucose production in your liver. By helping your body process sugars it helps prevent weight gain that is associated with diabetes medications that stimulate insulin release from the pancreas. In some cases, patients may actually lose weight while taking metformin as opposed to gaining weight.
Who Shouldn’t Take Metformin?
Metformin should not be taken if you have kidney disease, liver problems, or heart failure. People who take diuretics or are at risk for dehydration should also avoid this drug. If you suffer from low blood pressure or experience lightheadedness on standing up suddenly, consult a medical professional before taking this prescription medication as it can make these symptoms worse in some cases. Use caution when operating machinery or driving while on this medicine since it can cause dizziness and fatigue in some people. Ensure you drink plenty of fluids each day to prevent dehydration which may result due to the diuretic effects of this drug.