Psychological stress and metabolic control in patients with type I diabetes mellitus

N Engl J Med. 1986 Apr 24;314(17):1078-84. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198604243141704.


Acute psychological stress is believed to cause disturbances of metabolic control in patients with Type I diabetes. To examine the validity of this assumption, we subjected nine healthy persons (mean [+/- SEM] blood glucose level, 74 +/- 2 mg per deciliter), nine patients with Type I diabetes who had normoglycemia (130 +/- 10 mg per deciliter), and nine diabetic patients with hyperglycemia (444 +/- 17 mg per deciliter) to two acute psychological stresses: mental arithmetic and public speaking. Subjects in the three groups were matched for age, weight, sex, and socioeconomic status. For all subjects, the mean increase in heart rate was 20 beats per minute while they were doing mental arithmetic and 25 beats per minute while they were speaking publicly (P less than 0.001). In all three groups, systolic and diastolic pressure rose markedly, the plasma epinephrine level increased by 50 to 150 pg per milliliter, and the norepinephrine level by 100 to 200 pg per milliliter under both stress conditions (P less than 0.001). The plasma cortisol level rose significantly after public speaking in all groups. Neither stress induced changes in circulating levels of glucose, ketones, free fatty acids, glucagon, or growth hormone. Thus, sudden, short-lived psychological stimuli causing marked cardiovascular responses and moderate elevations in plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol are unlikely to disturb metabolic control in patients with Type I diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Insulin / blood
  • Mental Processes
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Speech
  • Stress, Psychological / blood*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine