How Does Byetta Work?

Q: I'd like some information on Byetta. How does this blood-glucose-lowering medication work?

A: Exenatide is the generic name for Byetta. It can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood glucose levels. Exenatide has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use with two other blood-glucose-lowering medicines: metformin and sulfonylureas. It is not approved for use with insulin. Exenatide is an injectable medication, but it is not insulin. It is taken before the morning and evening meals.

Exenatide imitates the actions of the naturally occurring hormone incretin, which is normally produced in the intestines to:

  • slow the emptying of the stomach after eating, which slows the rise of blood glucose.

  • suppress the release of glucose from the liver.

  • stimulate the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas to produce more insulin after eating.

The most common side effect is nausea, which tends to go away with time.

Madhu Gadia, M.S., R.D., is a certified diabetes educator.