10 August 2017

5 things diabetics need to know about over-the-counter meds

Many remedies for a cold, cough and headache contain carbs and as much alcohol as a glass of beer or wine, a pharmacist says.


It can be tough for people with diabetes to choose appropriate over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for a cold, cough or headache, a pharmacist explains.

Many of these so-called OTC drugs contain carbohydrates (including sugar) that can affect blood sugar levels, or ingredients that can interact with diabetes medications, according to Miranda Wilhelm. She is a clinical associate professor at Southern Illinois University School of Pharmacy.

Some ingredients not listed

But labels on OTC medicines don't list carbohydrates, she said. Wilhelm was to present a report on the topic at the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, in Indianapolis.

"It's a dilemma because in some cases the carbs are so high it's equivalent to a snack," Wilhelm said in an association news release.

"On the other hand, if you actually read the ingredients, you might be afraid to take something that's safe and could help with symptoms. In other words, you may not be limited to OTC medicines that are formulated for people with diabetes, and that's surprising for most people with the condition," she said.

Not only unsafe for diabetics

According to a Health24 article, OTC medicine is not only a concern for those with diabetes. People who suffer from other chronic diseases such as asthma and heart conditions can also experience negative effects from seemingly harmless OTC medicines.

Wilhelm offered the following advice for diabetes to choose safer OTC medicine:

1. Good diabetes management is important

"If your A1C levels are well-managed and your blood pressure is at or near your goal, you should be fine taking most OTC medicines – whether or not they contain carbohydrates – if you just need them for a few days," she said.

diabetic having insulin test

2. Read the label

"If you're concerned about your blood sugar levels, look for medicines labelled 'sugar-free' or 'for people with diabetes'," Wilhem suggested.

woman reading medicine label

3. Take pills instead of liquids

Liquid forms of medicines typically contain more carbohydrates, and sometimes as much alcohol as a glass of beer or wine, she said.pills

4. If possible, choose a 'topical' medicine 

The reason: They don't get into your bloodstream. For example, a nasal spray is better for treating a stuffy nose than a medicine you take by mouth. If you have muscle pain, ice the area and use a skin cream that treats pain instead of taking Motrin, Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen).


5. Get OTC recommendations from health professionals.

Your doctor or pharmacist can help you avoid ingredients that would interact with your other medicines. Check labels for ingredients that can pose problems, such as caffeine and acetaminophen.

Doctor talking to patient

"Something that says it's safe for people with diabetes is fine, but if it doesn't address your symptoms, it's not going to help you, meaning it's medicine you don't need," Wilhelm said

All images supplied by iStock.


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Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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