Treatment with metformin is occasionally associated with the development of severe lactic acidosis. However, this is usually observed in patients with major contraindications to the drug. In this study, we aimed to determine the prevalence of conditions currently regarded as either contraindications or cautions to the use of metformin in patients with NIDDM.


The case notes of metformin-treated NIDDM patients (mean age 62 years) attending a United Kingdom university hospital diabetes clinic over a 3-month period were reviewed according to criteria reflecting a pragmatic view of current prescribing recommendations.


Of 89 consecutive patients whose notes could be evaluated in detail, only 41 (46%) had no contraindications or cautions to metformin whatsoever. Concomitant chronic disorders associated with a potentially increased risk of hyperlactatemia were renal impairment (n = 2; plasma creatinine concentrations 1.7 and 2.3 mg/dl, respectively), cardiac failure (n = 2), and chronic liver disease (n = 2). Other potentially relevant disorders included ischemic heart disease (n = 20), clinical proteinuria (n = 14), peripheral vascular disease (n = 22), and pulmonary disease (n = 7). Multiple conditions (i.e., two, three, or four) were present in eight, five, and one patient(s), respectively.


More than half the patients in our series had concomitant conditions or complications conventionally regarded as cautions or contraindications to metformin; ∼ 10% had a multiplicity of such conditions. Regular surveillance is necessary to detect the development of complications such as renal impairment. Vigilance is also required in view of the increased risk of major intercurrent illnesses, which may independently disturb lactate metabolism in patients with NIDDM. Metformin should be withdrawn promptly under such circumstances.

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