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What is Tolbutamide?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tolbutamide is a medication used to treat type two diabetes. It is a type of drug classified as a sulfonylureas, which work by stimulating the pancreas to release more insulin. They also encourage the body to use insulin more efficiently. Both of these actions help lower blood glucose levels.

Adults will typically take between 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams (mg) of tolbutamide per day. Usually, the maximum dose prescribed is not more than 3,000 mg. The dosage may be divided, or the patient may take the full dose in the morning. A proper dose for a child will be determined on an individual basis by the prescribing physician. Tolbutamide is only available in the form of an oral tablet.

People with diabetes should not consider tolbutamide to be the sole component in their treatment plans. It is imperative for overweight diabetics to lose excess weight, and for all patients with diabetes to exercise regularly. Consistent exercise can help lower the risk of complications from diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease and neuropathy. A doctor-approved diet must also be strictly followed for best control of blood glucose levels.

Tolbutamide lowers blood sugar, so patients should be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, so that they can check their blood sugar levels and raise them appropriately. Typical signs include shakiness, sweating, and dizziness, as well as lightheadedness. Patients may also undergo abrupt changes in their mood or behavior. They will likely notice hunger, weakness, and irritability. Severe hypoglycemia warrants a trip to the emergency room. Patients and caregivers should watch out for confusion and seizures. Loss of consciousness may also occur.

Blood sugar levels that are not well managed may also lead to hyperglycemia, which is high blood sugar. This can often result in blurred vision, frequent urination, and weakness. Extreme thirst and hunger are also common. Patients should talk to their doctors about what to do should this occur.

This medication itself may also cause side effects such as skin rash, jaundice, and dark urine. Patients may develop a fever and a sore throat, as well as an exaggerated sunburn. Those who notice these side effects or any others should contact their doctors.

While taking tolbutamide or any other diabetes medication, patients should discuss the use of other drugs with the prescribing physician. They may be instructed to avoid certain prescription or over-the-counter medicines and supplements. Possible interactions should be evaluated by the physician. In addition, diabetic patients should avoid the use of alcohol, as it can lead to hypoglycemia.

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