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Understanding the Use of GLP-1 Receptor Agonists for Type 2 Diabetes

Understanding the Use of GLP-1 Receptor Agonists for Type 2 Diabetes

This article is for people who have type 2 diabetes, or anyone who wants to learn more about managing type 2 diabetes. The goal of this patient education activity is to inform you about how a GLP-1 RA may help in managing type 2 diabetes.

You will learn about:

  • What a GLP-1 RA is

  • How it works

  • The kinds of GLP-1 RAs that are available

  • How to take a GLP-1 RA

  • Side effects of GLP-1 RAs

  • Questions to ask your doctor

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What is a GLP-1 RA?

A glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist - or GLP-1 RA - is a medicine that can help you lower your blood sugar levels.

Your doctor may ask you to take this medicine alone or along with your other medicines for diabetes, maintain a healthy eating pattern, and get enough physical activity to help you reach your diabetes goals.

How Does it Work?

A GLP-1 RA increases the action of a hormone called GLP-1. After having a meal, GLP-1 is released from the small intestine:

  • It tells the pancreas to increase insulin and lower glucagon production, which helps to keep blood sugar levels under control. This can help lower HbA1c

  • It tells the stomach to slow down digestion, which also helps keep blood sugar levels more steady

  • It can make you feel more full and help decrease your appetite. This has helped some patients lose weight, and when you lose weight, it also helps your heart

A GLP-1 RA increases the action of the GLP-1 hormone, which helps to keep blood sugar levels steady and can make you feel more full.

What Kinds of GLP-1 RAs Are There?

GLP-1 RAs come as shots or a pill.

There are different kinds of GLP-1 RA shots. Some are taken once or twice a day, and some are taken once a week.


There are some GLP-1 RA shots that are combined with insulin:



  • Dulaglutide (Trulicity®)

  • Exenatide (Byetta®)

  • Exenatide extended release (Bydureon BCise®)

  • Liraglutide (Saxenda®, for people who have both obesity and type 2 diabetes)

  • Liraglutide (Victoza®)

  • Liraglutide/insulin degludec (Xultophy®)

  • Lixisenatide (Adlyxin®)

  • Lixisenatide/insulin glargine (Soliqua®)

  • Semaglutide (Ozempic®)

The GLP-1 RA pill, semaglutide (Rybelsus®), is taken once a day.

A patient shares his journey with diabetes and how he started on a GLP-1 RA.

How Do You Take a GLP-1 RA Shot?

The shot comes with a small needle that goes under your skin in places like the abdomen, thigh, or upper arm.

How to take a GLP-1 RA shot:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit

  • Clean the area where you will take the shot with an alcohol swab and let it dry

  • Hold the needle straight and place it into your skin

  • Inject the medicine and hold the needle in place for 10 seconds

  • Safely dispose of the needle

How Do You Take a GLP-1 RA Pill?

The GLP-1 RA pill is taken once a day in the morning on an empty stomach.

How to take a GLP-1 RA pill:

  • Take 1 pill in the morning with a sip of water

  • Wait at least 30 minutes before you have any food, beverage, and other pills

Tips for Taking a GLP-1 RA

Here are some easy tips for taking a GLP-1 RA.

To help with pain when you take a GLP-1 RA shot:

  • Take a deep breath and relax before taking the shot

  • Change where you take the shot at each dose

  • Let the medicine reach room temperature before your next dose

When you take a GLP-1 RA pill:

  • Take the pill first thing in the morning with up to 4 ounces of water

  • Wait at least 30 minutes before having any food, beverage, and other pills

  • Do not split, crush, or chew the pill

  • Keep pills in a dry place, away from moisture and away from children

If you are experiencing stomach issues:

  • To help with nausea, eat smaller meals, avoid fried and fatty foods, and stop eating when you feel full

  • To help with constipation, take a fiber supplement

A patient shares tips on how he has been managing his diabetes for 15 years.

What Are the Mild Side Effects?

When you take a GLP-1 RA, you may have mild side effects like:

  • Pain at the injection site (if you take the GLP-1 RA shot)

  • Stomach issues: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, heartburn

  • Low blood sugar (if you are taking a GLP-1 RA with other diabetes medicines): feeling dizzy, shaky, or like your heart is racing; having blurry vision; feeling confused

  • Pain in your abdomen

  • Headache

What Are the Serious Side Effects?

Although it is rare, you should call your doctor if you have any of these serious side effects:

  • Inflammation of the pancreas: severe pain from your abdomen to your back that does not go away, with or without vomiting

  • Thyroid problems: trouble swallowing or hoarseness in your throat

  • Gallbladder problems: nausea, vomiting, fever, yellowing of the eyes or skin, pain in your abdomen

  • Eye problems: blurry vision, seeing spots

  • Kidney problems (if you become dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea): not going to the bathroom a lot, feeling dizzy or weak, having fast breathing or a fast heartbeat

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Ask your doctor these questions and share your experiences so you can work together to manage diabetes.

  • Is my diabetes under control?

  • Should I take a GLP-1 RA?

  • Which GLP-1 RA is right for me?

  • How often do I have to take the GLP-1 RA?

  • What else should I do to manage diabetes?

  • When should I get emergency help?

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You have successfully completed the program: Understanding The Use of GLP-1 Receptor Agonists for Type 2 Diabetes

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful

American Diabetes Association (ADA): Living With Type 2 Diabetes

American Diabetes Association (ADA): Nutrition: Eating Right Doesn't Have to Be Boring

Endocrine Society: GLP-1 Receptor Agonists

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): Managing Diabetes

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD

Senior Director Learning and Content Development, Medscape, LLC Content

Disclosure: Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Asha P. Gupta, PharmD, RPh

Associate Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC

Disclosure: Asha P. Gupta, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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