Glycaemic variability and complications in patients with diabetes mellitus: evidence from a systematic review of the literature

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2010 Apr;12(4):288-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1326.2009.01160.x.


Aim: The objective of this review was to assess the published evidence for an association between glycaemic variability and the development of chronic micro- and macrovascular complications in patients with diabetes mellitus (DM).

Methods: A systematic review of English-language literature published from January 1990 through November 2008 was performed. Interventional and observational studies in patients with type 1 or type 2 DM reporting a measure of glycaemic variability and its impact on the development or progression of micro- and macrovascular diabetic complications were assessed.

Results: A total of 18 studies -8 on type 1 DM and 10 on type 2 DM patients-meeting the inclusion criteria were identified. Studies in patients with type 1 DM revealed that glucose variability has little impact on the development of diabetic complications. Only in two of the eight type 1 DM studies did glucose variability have a significant association with microvascular complications, but not with macrovascular complications. Among type 2 DM studies, a significant positive association between glucose variability and the development or progression of diabetic retinopathy, cardiovascular events and mortality was reported in 9 of 10 studies. Only one type 2 DM study reported no association between glucose variability and progression of retinopathy.

Conclusions: Based on this overview of the available evidence, there appears to be a signal suggesting that glucose variability, characterized by extreme glucose excursions, could be a predictor of diabetic complications, independent of HbA1c levels, in patients with type 2 DM. Better daily control of blood glucose excursions, especially in the postprandial period, may reduce the risk of these complications. Future prospective trials evaluating and comparing the effect of the control of glycaemic variability on the development of diabetic micro- and macrovascular complications are needed to further strengthen the evidence base.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / etiology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / complications*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose