Risk of Severe Hypoglycemia in Sulfonylurea-Treated Patients From Diabetes Centers in Germany/Austria: How Big Is the Problem? Which Patients Are at Risk?

Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2016 Mar;32(3):316-24. doi: 10.1002/dmrr.2722. Epub 2015 Nov 20.


Background: We investigated the rate of severe hypoglycemic events and confounding factors in patients with type 2 diabetes treated with sulfonylurea at specialized diabetes centers, documented in the German/Austrian DPV-Wiss database.

Methods: Data from 29 485 sulfonylurea-treated patients were analyzed (median[IQR] age 70.8[62.2-77.8] years, diabetes duration 8.2[4.3-12.8] years). The primary objective was to estimate the event rate of severe hypoglycemia (requiring external help, causing unconsciousness/coma/convulsion and/or emergency hospitalization). Secondary objectives included exploration of confounding risk factors through group comparison and Poisson regression.

Results: Severe hypoglycemic events were reported in 826(2.8%) of all patients during their most recent year of sulfonylurea treatment. Of these, n = 531(1.8%) had coma, n = 501(1.7%) were hospitalized at least once. The adjusted event rate of severe hypoglycemia [95%CI] was 3.9[3.7-4.2] events/100 patient-years (coma: 1.9[1.8-2.1]; hospitalization: 1.6[1.5-1.8]). Adjusted event rates by diabetes treatment were 6.7 (sulfonylurea + insulin), 4.9 (sulfonylurea + insulin + other OAD), 3.1 (sulfonylurea + other OAD) and 3.8 (sulfonylurea only). Patients with ≥1 severe event were older (p < 0.001) and had longer diabetes duration (p = 0.020) than patients without severe events. Participation in educational diabetes-programs and indirect measures of insulin-resistance (increased BMI, plasma-triglycerides) were associated with fewer events (all p < 0.001). Impaired renal function was common (n = 3113 eGFR; ≤30 mL/min) and associated with an increased rate of severe events (≤30 mL/min: 7.7; 30-60 mL/min: 4.8; >60 mL/min: 3.9).

Conclusions: These real-life data showed a rate of severe hypoglycemia of 3.9/100 patient-years in sulfonylurea-treated patients from specialized diabetes centers. Higher risk was associated with known risk factors including lack of diabetes education, older age and decreased eGFR but also with lower BMI and lower triglyceride levels, suggesting that sulfonylurea treatment in those patients should be considered with caution.

Keywords: DPV-Wiss; hypoglycemia; real-life data; sulfonylurea; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Austria / epidemiology
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / metabolism
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / chemically induced
  • Hypoglycemia / epidemiology*
  • Hypoglycemia / metabolism
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds / adverse effects*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds