Aims: To assess the prevalence of and risk factors for autonomic neuropathy in the EURODIAB IDDM Complications Study.
Methods: The study involved the examination of randomly selected Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients from 31 centres in 16 European countries. Neuropathic symptoms and two tests of autonomic function (changes in heart rate and blood pressure from lying to standing) were assessed and data from 3007 patients were available for the present analysis. Autonomic neuropathy was defined as an abnormality of at least one of the tests.
Results: The prevalence of autonomic neuropathy was 36% with no sex differences. The frequency of one and two abnormal reflex tests was 30% and 6%, respectively. The R-R ratio was abnormal in 24% of patients while 18% had orthostatic hypotension defined as a fall in systolic blood pressure > 20 mmHg on standing. Significant correlations were observed between autonomic neuropathy and age (P < 0.01), duration of diabetes (P < 0.0001), HbA1c (P < 0.0001), diastolic blood pressure (P < 0.05), lower HDL-cholesterol (P < 0.01), the presence of retinopathy (P < 0.0001) and albuminuria (P < 0.0001). New associations have been identified from the study: the strong relationship of autonomic neuropathy to cigarette smoking (P < 0.01), total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol ratio (P < 0.05) and fasting triglyceride (P < 0.0001). As a key finding, autonomic neuropathy was related to the presence of cardiovascular disease (P < 0.0001). All analyses were adjusted for age, duration of diabetes and HbA1c. However, data have been only partly confirmed by logistic regression analyses. Frequency of dizziness on standing up was 18%, while only 4% of patients had nocturnal diarrhoea and 5% had problems with bladder control.
Conclusion: Cardiovascular reflex tests, even in the form of the two tests applied, rather than a questionnaire, seem to be appropriate for the diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy. The study has identified previously known and new potential risk factors for the development of autonomic neuropathy, which may be important for the development of risk reduction strategies. Our results may support the role of vascular factors in the pathogenesis of autonomic neuropathy.