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Diabetologia. 1996 Nov;39(11):1372-6.

Is autonomic neuropathy a risk factor for severe hypoglycaemia? The EURODIAB IDDM Complications Study.

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL Medical School, London, UK.


The hypothesis that diabetic patients with autonomic neuropathy are at increased risk of severe hypoglycaemia was examined in an epidemiological study of over 3000 IDDM patients in Europe (EURODIAB IDDM Complications Study). Autonomic function was assessed by two standard cardiovascular tests: change in heart rate and systolic blood pressure on standing. Severe hypoglycaemia was defined as an attack serious enough to require the help of another person. Compared to patients (68%) reporting no attacks in the last year, those reporting one or more attacks were older (34.0 +/- 10.7 vs 32.1 +/- 9.9 years, mean +/- SD, p < 0.0001), had had diabetes for a longer period (16.6 +/- 9.5 vs 13.8 +/- 9.1 years, p < 0.0001), had better glycaemic control (HbA1c 6.4 +/- 1.8 vs 6.9 +/- 1.9%, p < 0.0001) and were more likely (p = 0.002) to have abnormal responses to both autonomic tests (13.0 vs 7.7%). A single abnormal autonomic response was not associated with an increased risk of severe hypoglycaemia. The odds ratio for severe hypoglycaemia in people with abnormal responses to both autonomic tests, compared to those with normal responses, was 1.7 (95% confidence interval 1.3, 2.2) after controlling for age, duration of diabetes, glycaemic control and study centre. In conclusion, a combined autonomic deficit in heart rate and blood pressure responses to standing is associated with only a modest increase in the risk of severe spontaneous hypoglycaemia. Although the increase in risk is not large, severe hypoglycaemia was a frequently reported event in this study. IDDM patients with deficient autonomic responses who strive for tight glycaemic control may therefore be at particular risk of severe hypoglycaemia.

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