Aims: Patients with diabetes rely on symptoms to identify hypoglycaemia. Previous data suggest patients with Type 2 diabetes develop greater symptomatic and hormonal responses to hypoglycaemia at higher glucose concentrations than non-diabetic controls and these responses are lowered by insulin treatment. It is unclear if this is as a result of insulin therapy itself or improved glucose control. We compared physiological responses to hypoglycaemia in patients with Type 2 diabetes patients treated with sulphonylureas (SUs) or insulin (INS) with non-diabetic controls (CON).
Methods: Stepped hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemic clamps were performed on 20 subjects with Type 2 diabetes, 10 SU-treated and 10 treated with twice-daily premixed insulin, and 10 age- and weight-matched non-diabetic controls. Diabetic subjects were matched for diabetes duration, glycated haemoglobin (HbA(1c)) and hypoglycaemia experience. We measured symptoms, counterregulatory hormones and cognitive function at glucose plateaux of 5, 4, 3.5, 3 and 2.5 mmol/l.
Results: Symptomatic responses to hypoglycaemia occurred at higher blood glucose concentrations in SU-treated than INS-treated patients [3.5 (0.4) vs. 2.6 (0.5) mmol/l SU vs. INS; P = 0.001] or controls [SU vs. CON 3.5 (0.4) vs. 3.0 (0.6) mmol/l; P = 0.05]. They also had a greater increase in symptom scores at hypoglycaemia [13.6 (11.3) vs. 3.6 (6.1) vs. 5.1 (4.3) SU vs. INS vs. CON; P = 0.017]. There were no significant differences in counterregulatory hormone responses or impairment of cognitive function among groups.
Conclusions: Sulphonylurea-treated subjects are more symptomatic of hypoglycaemia at a higher glucose level than insulin-treated subjects. This may protect them from severe hypoglycaemia but hinder attainment of glycaemic goals.