Permanent neuropsychological impairment after recurrent episodes of severe hypoglycaemia in man

Diabetologia. 1990 Mar;33(3):152-7. doi: 10.1007/BF00404042.


Seventeen Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetic patients with a history of recurrent and severe hypoglycaemia and Type 1 diabetic patients with no severe hypoglycaemia were compared as regarded performances in tests of neuropsychological functioning. To test the hypothesis that recurrent severe hypoglycaemia gives rise to permanent cognitive impairment, the study group was selected among those patients who had met with repeated attacks over the last three years or more as identified by a questionnaire among almost 600 insulin-treated diabetic patients. The comparison group without known severe reactions were comparable to the study group with respect to type of diabetes, sex, age, age at onset, duration of diabetes, socio-economic parameters, and prevalence of neuropathy and retinopathy. The results indicate that Type 1 diabetic patients with recurrent severe hypoglycaemia scored lower than those without severe hypoglycaemia in tests of motor ability, short-term and associative memory and visuospatial tasks assessing ability in general problem-solving. Type 1 diabetic patients with severe hypoglycaemia also displayed a higher frequency of perspective reversals suggesting frontal-lobe involvement. These data can be interpreted in two ways. One interpretation implies that the cognitive impairment of Type 1 diabetic patients with severe hypoglycaemia reflects a selection factor, the other that recurrent episodes of severe hypoglycaemia result in permanent cognitive impairment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / psychology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / psychology
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / etiology
  • Hypoglycemia / physiopathology*
  • Hypoglycemia / psychology
  • Insulin / adverse effects*
  • Insulin / therapeutic use
  • Memory
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time


  • Insulin