To examine the hypothesis that episodes of severe hypoglycaemia may cause cumulative cognitive impairment. 100 Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients were examined. Their age range was 25-52 years, and the onset of diabetes had occurred after the age of 19 years. Patients with evidence of organic brain disease, including cerebrovascular disease, were excluded. A questionnaire was used to assess the number, frequency and severity of hypoglycaemic episodes experienced during treatment with insulin and the accuracy of this retrospective information was verified from general practice and hospital case-notes. A detailed neuropsychological assessment was undertaken, including tests of pre-morbid and present IQ (Wechsler-Revised), memory and information-processing speed. Significant correlations were observed between the frequency of severe hypoglycaemia and the magnitude of intellectual decline, Performance IQ, inspection time and reaction time (patients with the more frequent hypoglycaemia had poorer performance). Two sub-groups of patients were identified on the basis of their experience of severe hypoglycaemia, and were balanced for pre-morbid IQ, age and duration of diabetes. One sub-group (n = 23) had never experienced severe hypoglycaemia (Group A), whilst the other sub-group (n = 24) had suffered at least five episodes of severe hypoglycaemia (Group B). Group B had greater intellectual impairment than Group A, and Group B also had a significantly slower mean reaction time and higher reaction time variance when compared with Group A.