What are GLP-1 Analogues (Incretin Mimetics)?
- How do GLP-1 analogues work?
- How are GLP-1 analogues taken?
- What are the side-effects of taking GLP-1 analogues?
- GLP-1 analogues and Driving
- Who should not take GLP-1 analogues?
- What if I forget to take my medication?
- Getting the most from your medication
Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) analogues or incretin mimetics as they are sometimes called, are a class of medications that are commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes.
There are a few different members of the GLP-1 analogue inhibitor family, these include:
Brand or Trade name
Exenatide (twice-daily injection)
Exenatide (once-weekly injection)
Liraglutide (once-daily injection)
Lixisenatide (once-daily injection)
Dulaglutide (once-weekly injection)
Semaglutide (once-weekly injection)
Semaglutide (once daily tablet)
How do GLP-1 analogues work?
This type of medication works by increasing the levels of a group of hormones called incretins. These hormones help the body produce more insulin when needed and reduce the amount of glucose being produced by the liver when it’s not needed.
Incretins also slow down the digestion of food so that glucose from your meals takes longer to be absorbed, and they can reduce your appetite and result in weight loss.
GLP-1 analogues reduce the symptoms of the high blood glucose levels (such as feeling thirsty). In the long-term, good control of blood glucose levels reduces the risk of developing problems with your eyes, kidneys and feet. Most people taking GLP-1 analogues also lose weight which can be beneficial for a lot of people with type 2 diabetes.
Some GLP-1 analogues have also been shown to have additional benefits in protecting against heart disease and stroke.
How are GLP-1 analogues taken?
This group of medication can either be given by injection or as a once daily tablet.
The injections are delivered by an injectable pen device so you may hear them referred to as "non-insulin injectables". Depending on which medication you are on, the injections are given twice daily, once daily or once weekly.
The tablet (Rybelsus) must be taken correctly for it to work properly:
- It can be taken at any time in the day but should be taken on an empty stomach, so most people take it first thing in the morning.
- It should be swallowed whole with a sip of water (up to a maximum of half a glass which is equivalent to 120 ml).
- Tablets should not be split, crushed or chewed as this may have an effect on the absorption of the tablet and mean that it doesn't work.
- You should wait at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking or taking any other tablets or medicines by mouth. Waiting less than 30 minutes reduces the absorption of the tablet and may mean that it will not work.
What are the side-effects of taking GLP-1 analogues?
Not everybody will experience side-effects from taking this type of medication, however the most common ones include:
- Increased sweating
- Loss of appetite
Most of the side-effects usually go away over time. However, if you experience severe and persistent stomach pain, which might reach through to your back, with or without vomiting, stop taking the medicine and contact your doctor immediately. This may be a sign that your pancreas is inflamed. This complication is very rare.
If you experience any side-effects, please discuss them with the doctor or nurse caring for you.
GLP-1 analogues and Driving
GLP-1 analogues should not affect your ability to drive, cycle or use machinery or tools as long as your blood glucose levels are stable.
You should never drive with a low blood sugar level. On their own, GLP-1 analogues will not cause you blood glucose level to go too low (i.e. cause hypoglycaemia, which is classed as a blood glucose level less than 4 mmol/L), but they may increase the risk of this happening if you also take insulin or drugs called sulphonylureas (e.g. gliclazide).
Check with your diabetes care team if you would like further guidance or have a look at the national guidelines for driving when you have diabetes.
Who should not take GLP-1 analogues?
GLP-1 analogues are usually prescribed to adults who have type 2 diabetes. They may not be suitable for some people. You should tell your doctor before starting any of these medications if you:
- Have problems with your kidneys
- Have had gastrointestinal disease (particularly pancreatitis)
- Are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding
- Have had allergic reactions to any medications
What if I forget to take my medication?
If you forget to take a dose, then take it as soon as you remember unless it’s nearly time for your next dose. In this case, skip the missed dose and just take your next one as normal.
Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one.
Getting the most from your medication
Continue to take your medication regularly unless your doctor tells you otherwise. It is important that you keep your regular clinic appointments.
If you have been advised by your doctor or nurse about changes to your diet, stopping smoking or taking regular exercise, it is important that you follow this advice.