"G"ee - What's in a Name?


Medical Author: Ruchi Mathur, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Have you ever noticed how so many medications for the treatment of diabetes start with the letter "G"? There's Glucophage, Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL, Glucovance, Glynase, Glyset.... What's that all about?! I guess somewhere along the way someone decided that since the scientific name for "blood sugar" is "G"lucose, a treatment for diabetes should start with the same letter. The trend caught on.

While the concept of making the first letter the same for all of these drugs sounds appealing initially (a way to categorize perhaps), it really creates quite a problem. I can't tell you how many times patients have said: "I can't remember the name of my diabetes medication, but I know it starts with a 'G'." This is certainly no fault of the patient...It's hard enough to remember the names of the medications, never mind when a doctor tries to jog your memory by providing a list of possibilities that all sound the same!

As a physician, this situation, while humorous, proves to be quite a problem. The methods of action, dosages, side effect profile, and the rationale for prescribing these medications all vary. An assumption about what the medication could be may lead to wrong prescription refills, inadequate blood sugar control, improper follow-up, and serious consequences. So, how can patients avoid confusion?

If possible, you should bring all of your medications with you to your doctor appointments. If this is not practical, you should keep an updated list of all your medications and doses in your wallet or purse. This is a good idea regardless of doctor visits, since information of this sort is extremely useful in the event of an emergency or accident. If you are seeing a physician and are not absolutely certain about the name or dose of your medication, don't try and guess. In this case, no information is much better than wrong information. Simply tell your doctor that you can't remember and that you will phone his/her office with the information.

It is also important for patients to empower themselves with knowledge. All of the drug names listed above start with "G" are "trade names" that were originated by the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the drugs. These names are NOT the names of the actual drug. The actual drug names are the "Generic" names. Below are examples of diabetes medications that are listed by trade names and their corresponding generic names:

Trade Name Generic Name(s) of the Active Drug(s)
Glucophage metformin
Glucotrol glipizide
Glucotrol XL glipizide - sustained release
Glucovance combination glyburide and metformin
Glynase glyburide
Glyset miglitol

It is important for patients to realize that trade names may change from country to country, and this may cause confusion when traveling. Likewise, physicians who have trained in other countries may not be readily familiar with the trade names of this country. It is my opinion that patients should be aware of the generic names of all of their medications. This can help avoid uncertainty and minimize the risk of errors occurring because of confusion. "G"ee - it's worth the effort!

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