Vascular disease and diabetes: is hypoglycaemia an aggravating factor?

Diabetes Metab Res Rev. Jul-Aug 2008;24(5):353-63. doi: 10.1002/dmrr.865.


Acute hypoglycaemia provokes profound physiological changes affecting the cardiovascular system and several haematological parameters, principally as a consequence of sympatho-adrenal activation and counter-regulatory hormonal secretion. Many of these responses have an important role in protecting the brain from neuroglycopenia, through altering regional blood flow and promoting metabolic changes that will restore blood glucose to normal. In healthy young adults the cardiovascular effects are transient and have no obvious detrimental consequences. However, some of the effected changes are potentially pathophysiological and in people with diabetes who have developed endothelial dysfunction, they may have an adverse impact on a vasculature that is already damaged. The acute haemodynamic and haematological changes may increase the risk of localized tissue ischaemia, and major vascular events can certainly be precipitated by acute hypoglycaemia. These include myocardial and cerebral ischaemia and occasionally infarction. Established diabetic retinopathy often deteriorates after strict glycaemic control is instituted, the latter being associated with a threefold increase in frequency of severe hypoglycaemia, and enhanced exposure to mild hypoglycaemia. The possible mechanisms underlying these hypoglycaemia-induced effects include haemorrheological changes, white cell activation, vasoconstriction, and the release of inflammatory mediators and cytokines. The concept that acute hypoglycaemia could aggravate vascular complications associated with diabetes is discussed in relation to evolving comprehension of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and blood vessel disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology
  • Atherosclerosis / complications
  • Blood Coagulation / physiology
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Diabetes Complications / physiopathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / epidemiology
  • Fibrinolysis / physiology
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / complications*
  • Hypoglycemia / epidemiology
  • Hypoglycemia / physiopathology
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Myocardial Ischemia / etiology
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Vascular Diseases / etiology*


  • Blood Glucose