Aim: To determine, in insulin-treated diabetes the incidence and risk factors for severe hypoglycaemia requiring ambulance visits.
Methods: A cross-sectional, questionnaire survey was made of patients with type 1 diabetes, who received help for severe hypoglycaemia from Ambulance Association personnel, during the period 1/6/95 to 31/5/96.
Results: The ambulance service made 386 emergency visits to 247 persons with type 1 diabetes. Of these, 128 respondents (52%) completed a questionnaire detailing personal and diabetes history, usual diabetes care practices and hypoglycaemia management. Two or more visits for severe hypoglycaemia were made to 26.3% of patients, who reported a longer duration of diabetes than those who required only one visit (28 vs 20 years, p<0.03). Self-blood-glucose monitoring was performed by 98.4% of respondents and 66.4% self-adjusted insulin doses. Intensively treated patients (> or = 3 insulin injections daily) reported less awareness of hypoglycaemia than standard therapy patients (< or = 2 insulin injections daily) (p<0.05). Fifty-four per cent of respondents had glucagon available for emergency use, but those who lived alone and in general practitioner care only (27%) were less likely to have glucagon (p<0.05) compared to those with companions and in shared-care arrangements (62%). Hypoglycaemia management was influenced by the availability of glucagon. Oral glucose was used by 82% before injecting glucagon, whereas 40% of patients without glucagon called for the ambulance when severe symptoms were present even before initiating treatment with oral glucose.
Conclusion: This survey determined the minimum frequency of severe hypoglycaemia requiring the ambulance at 1.6 episodes patient(-1) year(-1). Precipitating factors and a lack of coping skills and behaviours that might prevent severe hypoglycaemia and ambulance calls were identified.