Rybelsus: What is the life-changing type 2 diabetes medication? - explainer

Rybelsus is a relatively new medication that is used to treat type 2 diabetes. Here's what we know.

Diabetes (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Rybelsus is a semaglutide-type medication prescribed to some people who suffer from type 2 diabetes to help them improve their blood sugar control.

The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition where the body is unable to create insulin that develops in most people from a young age. Type 2 diabetes, however, mostly develops from lifestyle choices and in certain ethnicities. In type 2, the body is unable to create enough insulin, or the insulin that's created doesn't function properly.

Type 1 diabetes is usually treated by controlling the body's blood sugar by taking insulin, while in the case of type 2 diabetes, patients are treated with medication, exercise and diets as well as or instead of insulin.

How does Rybelsus work?

A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)
A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)

Rybelsus is a way to lower blood sugar in the body in two ways

1. The medication increases the body's release of insulin which helps move sugar out of the blood and into the cells.

2. The medication blocks the body's release of the glucagon which activates the liver to make sugar.

How Rybelsus is taken

When a patient is prescribed with Rybelsus, they will usually be given clear instructions from the doctor or pharmacist.

Most commonly, the medication is started at a low dose which is increased gradually every month or so.

Rybelsus should be swallowed whole at least 30 minutes before eating or drinking, and patients should eat and drink between half an hour to an hour after taking the medication.

Rybelsus side effects

  1. Common side effects of Rybelsus are:
  2. Low blood sugar
  3. Stomach issues, gas and bloating
  4. Nausea
  5. Diarrhea or constipation
  6. Stomach flu symptoms
  7. Headache
  8. Dizziness
  9. Fatigue

Weight loss

Rybelsus is not intended as a weight-loss medication, but people who take the medication can experience weight changes.

While some people were known to lose weight, others were known to gain weight.

Rybelsus vs. Metformin

Rybelsus and Metformin are two different drugs that are both used to treat type 2 diabetes, although Metformin is older and has been used for decades. 

Metformin is the preferred medication which is usually prescribed first. Rybelsus is usually prescribed when other medications fail.

In some cases, the two medications can be taken together but not often.