Hypoglycemia in hospitalized patients. Causes and outcomes

N Engl J Med. 1986 Nov 13;315(20):1245-50. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198611133152002.


We analyzed 137 episodes of hypoglycemia (serum glucose less than or equal to 49 mg per deciliter) occurring in 94 adult patients hospitalized during a six-month period at a tertiary care hospital. Forty-five percent of the patients had diabetes mellitus, and administered insulin was implicated in 90 percent of episodes in diabetics. Hypoglycemia in diabetic patients occurred under a variety of circumstances, frequently because of decreased caloric intake related to illness or hospital routine. Insulin-induced hypoglycemia also occurred during treatment of hyperkalemia (eight patients) or during hyperglycemia related to total parenteral nutrition (six patients). Forty-six of the 94 patients had chronic renal insufficiency, and 20 of these 46 had underlying diabetes mellitus. Thus, renal insufficiency unrelated to diabetes mellitus was the second most frequent diagnosis associated with hypoglycemia. The majority of other cases of hypoglycemia were related to liver disease, infections, shock, pregnancy, neoplasia, or burns. Hypoglycemia was not the apparent cause of death in any patient, but the overall hospital mortality was 27 percent and was related to the degree of hypoglycemia and the number of risk factors for hypoglycemia. We conclude that hypoglycemia is a common problem in hospitalized patients, is common in renal insufficiency, is usually iatrogenic, and correlates with high mortality in severely ill patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / etiology*
  • Hypoglycemia / mortality
  • Insulin / adverse effects
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Liver Diseases / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk


  • Insulin