Metformin (brand names: Glucophage, Fortamet, Riomet) is an oral anti-diabetic medicine meant specifically for Type 2 Diabetics.
That is, for diabetics who do not need to take a daily injection of insulin. Metformin helps reduce plasma glucose levels and lowers the production of glucose by the liver, without increasing the concentration of insulin in the blood. This unique effect on blood insulin level is what separates Metformin from other glucose-lowering drugs of the sulfonylurea class, e.g. glyburide (Micronase; Diabeta) or glipizide (Glucotrol).
How Metformin does this, is by increasing the sensitivity of muscle and fat cells to the absorption of insulin, thus improving glucose uptake from the bloodstream. Insulin metabolizes glucose, but if cells are not sensitized to insulin, both insulin and glucose will stay in the blood stream and not get transported to body cells. A prolonged condition of this nature will result in high blood glucose levels you find in Type 2 Diabetes.
Scientific studies had been conducted to prove that Metformin reduces the complications of diabetes such as heart and kidney diseases, as well as blindness. Metformin has been approved by the FDA since 1994. It's been successful in lowering blood sugar levels without going about it excessively. If blood glucose level is overly reduced, this will lead to hypoglycemia - with common symptoms ranging from headache, mild confusion, dizziness, sweating, and abnormal behavior, to loss of consciousness, seizure, and coma.
That's why the side effects of taking Metformin can sometimes look similar to those found in hypoglycemia. This can happen for people who somehow developed an intolerance of taking it, causing a life-threatening condition called lactic acidosis. You must get emergency medical help if you find any of such symptoms of lactic acidosis: weakness, increasing sleepiness, slow heart rate, cold feeling, muscle pain, shortness of breath, stomach pain, feeling light-headed, and fainting.
This condition of lactic acidosis is likely to develop if you have congestive heart failure, impaired kidney, or liver functions. In addition, older individuals are more susceptible to contracting it. People younger than 17 years old should not take slow release Metformin. In any case, no children below 10 should be given any form of it.
Other side effects might include symptoms of an allergic reaction such as throat, tongue, lip, or face swelling, breathing problems, or hives. You might also experience shortness of breath, even with the mildest of exertion, rapid weight gain, swelling, flu-like symptoms, body aches, chills, fever, headache, weakness, or even mild nausea. While taking Metformin, you might experience stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, or muscle pain as well.
If you have a history of heart, liver of kidney disease, do not take Metformin. If you are in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis (over production of glucose from the breakdown of your body muscle and fat tissues), call your doctor for treatment with insulin. You should always contact your doctor before commencing a treatment - get to know which of your other types of medications (whether prescription or OTC drugs, or vitamins and herbs) will raise or lower your blood glucose level, and what types will adverse interactions with Metformin.
Disclaimer: If you need more information about Metformin, talk to your doctor or a qualified professional.