Does it matter when my dad takes his diabetes pills?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 01, 2009
Melanie haiken asked...

My father has type 2 diabetes and recently started taking oral medications. Is the timing of his pill taking important?

Expert Answers

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

Absolutely. Some diabetes medications, including a class of drugs known as sulfonylureas, should be taken before meals, as they're specifically designed to help the pancreas secrete more insulin. Examples of these prescription pills include tolbutamide (brand name Orinase), glipizide (Glucatrol), glyburide (Micronase, Diabeta, and Glynase), and glimepiride (Amaryl). Also, pills designed to increase your dad's insulin production over a short period of time as a mealtime glucose regulator -- known as meglitinides, such as repaglinide (Prandin) and nateglinide (Starlix) -- should be taken before a meal.

Other glucose-lowering meds, such as metformin (Glucophage), are best taken with or after a meal because their potential side effects, including gas, bloating, and diarrhea, are often minimized if your dad already has some food on board.

If your dad forgets to take a pill but remembers within an hour, he should take it then. If he forgets altogether, he should take his next regular dose. Don't have him double up on his dosage if he forgets an earlier dose, unless his doctor specifically instructs him to do so. The occasional forgotten pill is usually not a cause for concern, but if your father frequently forgets to take his medication, you may need to find ways of reminding him.

In addition to timing, make sure you and your dad know how many doses a day he's supposed to take. Should he take a pill with every meal, for instance, or just dinner? Some pills may be taken once, twice, or three times a day before meals, depending on how long they're effective. Others may need to be taken just once a day.

It may not matter exactly when your dad takes the medication, but it's a good idea for him to get in the habit of taking it at the same time each day. Consistent timing with pill taking allows for a consistent release of medication into your dad's body, which promotes diabetes control.

Even the most diligent soul can get confused or overwhelmed with all this pill popping (it's likely that your dad is taking medications for other, related conditions as well). To help him keep track of his daily medication regimen, get him to keep a record by filling out a medication form that's placed in a handy spot, such as on his refrigerator door.

When your dad's doctor prescribes a new medication, in addition to asking about side effects always ask the following questions and jot down the answers:

  • When should my dad take the pill -- before, during, or after a meal?
  • How often should he take it?
  • Should he take it at the same time every day?
  • What should he do if he forgets to take it?

Even though the pharmacy will print some of this information on your dad's prescription, it's best to get it from the doctor first and then check it against any instructions given by the pharmacy.