What Happens If You Suddenly Stop Taking Metformin?

When it comes to medication treatment for those with Type 2 diabetes, metformin has been clinician's first line of defense for more than six decades now, according to 2020 research published in Frontiers in Endocrinology. Able to effectively and safely reduce patient plasma glucose levels, over 92 million prescriptions were given for metformin across the country in 2020 (via Statista).

In addition to reducing sugar production in the liver, metformin also operates by regulating how much of that sugar is absorbed into one's gastrointestinal tract (per WebMD). While metformin is certainly good at its job, some people taking the medication may experience various side effects such as nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, weakness, or develop a metallic taste in their mouth. Although these side effects can certainly be unsettling, it's best to report them to your physician right away rather than discontinue use on your own, as doing so can come with potential health risks.

Stopping metformin may worsen the condition

Some research suggests that patients may be facing certain challenges when it comes to sticking with their metformin usage. In a 2021 study published in Diabetic Medicine, research findings showed that one-third of patients in the retrospective cohort study only stuck with taking their metformin prescription for no more than three months. 48% of patients discontinued use within the first year. While the researchers pointed to cost as one possible contributing factor, one might argue that side effects could be another potential reason for patient discontinuation of the medicine.

If you were to stop taking your diabetes medication cold turkey, the drug would no longer be regulating your blood sugar levels. As a result, patients would see their blood sugar levels increase once again. Without treatment, those with diabetes may face various health problems in the long run, such as kidney problems, nerve damage, heart issues, impaired vision, foot problems, and more (via Medical News Today).

Yet there are some cases in which stopping metformin may be appropriate for a patient if approved by their doctor. This is particularly true if a patient's diabetes appears to be in remission.

When it may be safe to stop taking metformin

In the event that a patient displays evidence that their diabetes is in remission, they may no longer need to take metformin. However, this can only be signed off on by the patient's doctor in the event that their A1C level is less than 6.5% for at least six months, morning blood sugar levels are below 130 mg/dL prior to eating, and if blood sugar levels are less than 180 mg/dL after eating (via Healthline).

In addition, patients will only want to stop taking metformin if they have a support plan in place to continue managing their blood sugar levels. This may include working with a dietician, maintaining a healthy weight, and engaging in physical activity on a regular basis. Use your doctor as a resource, as they can help you develop a diet or exercise plan specific to your needs.

If a patient with diabetes does not show signs of remission and they are still in need of medicated treatment, they should continue to take metformin as prescribed or talk to their doctor about potentially switching medications if they're bothered by side effects.