Reduced Awareness of Hypoglycemia in Adults With IDDM: A prospective study of hypoglycemic frequency and associated symptoms

  1. William Polonsky, PHD
  1. Departments of Pediatrics and of Psychiatric Medicine, the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center Charlottesville, Virginia; the Diabetes Research and Training Center Boston, Massachusetts
  2. Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee; and the Joslin Diabetes Clinic Boston, Massachusetts
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to William L. Clarke, MD, Box 386, Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, VA 22908.


OBJECTIVE To prospectively evaluate the frequency and severity of hypoglycemic episodes in IDDM subjects who declare themselves to have reduced awareness of hypoglycemia, to validate their self-designations in their natural environment, and to determine objectively the presence or absence of autonomic and neuroglycopenic symptoms associated with their low blood glucose (BG) levels.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS A total of 78 insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) subjects (mean age 38.3 ± 9.2 years; duration of diabetes 19.3 ± 10.4 years) completed two sets of assessments separated by 6 months. The assessments included reports of frequency and severity of low BG, symptoms associated with low BG, and a BG symptom/estimation trial using a hand-held computer (HHC). Diaries of hypoglycemic episodes were kept for the intervening 6 months. HbA1 levels were determined at each assessment.

RESULTS Of the subjects, 39 declared themselves as having reduced awareness of hypoglycemia (reduced-awareness subjects). There were no differences between these reduced-awareness subjects and aware subjects with regard to age, sex, disease duration, insulin dose, or HbA1. During the HHC trials, reduced-awareness subjects were significantly less accurate in detecting BG < 3.9 mmol/l (33.2 ± 47 vs. 47.6 ± 50% detection, P = 0.001) and had significantly fewer autonomic (0.41 ± 0.82 vs. 1.08 ± 1.22, P = 0.006, reduced-awareness vs. aware) and neuroglycopenic (0.44 ± 0.85 vs. 1.18 ± 1.32, P = 0.004, reduced-awareness vs. aware) symptoms per subject. Prospective diary records revealed that reduced-awareness subjects experienced more moderate (351 vs. 238, P = 0.026) and severe (50 vs. 17, P = 0.0062) hypoglycemic events. The second assessment results were similar to the first and verified the reliability of the data.

CONCLUSIONS IDDM subjects who believe they have reduced awareness of hypoglycemia are generally correct. They have a history of more moderate and severe hypoglycemia, are less accurate at detecting BG < 3.9 mmol/l, and prospectively experience more moderate and severe hypoglycemia than do aware subjects. Neither disease duration nor level of glucose control explains their reduced awareness of hypoglycemia. Reduced-awareness individuals may benefit from interventions designed to teach them to recognize all of their potential early warning symptoms.

  • Received July 7, 1994.
  • Revision received December 22, 1994.
  • Accepted December 22, 1994.
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