A new study has found that hypoglycaemia (abnormally low blood sugar levels) significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death in diabetic patients.
The study was jointly led by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and University of Leicester – in collaboration with insulin manufacturer Novo Nordisk.
Professor Sanjoy Paul from QIMR Berghofer’s Clinical Trials and Biostatics Unit said the study found episodes of hypoglycaemia placed patients at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes.
“Hypoglycaemia can be a problem for patients using insulin, which include those with type 1 and long-term type 2 diabetes,” Professor Paul said.
“In people with type 2 diabetes, the study found that hypoglycaemic episodes increased the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by between 50 and 70 per cent.
“Hypoglycaemia was also associated with about a two-fold increased risk of death in these people.”
Factors including body mass index (BMI) and previous history of cardiovascular problems also affected patient outcomes.
Professor Paul said further research into the link between hypoglycaemia and CVD is vitally important.
“The large number of patients requiring insulin therapy means even a small increase in risk could have major clinical and public health implications,” he said.
“Both health workers and patients need to be aware that failure to properly manage diabetes could cause potentially fatal CVD.”
The study drew on 10 years of medical records for 13,682 United Kingdom patients using insulin.
“This is the first study of its kind to analyse real-world data combining both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients from a population similar to Australia,” Professor Paul said.
Health authorities predict the number of Australians diagnosed with diabetes will reach 3.5 million by 2033, with an estimated 275 Australians developing type 2 diabetes every day.
Professor Paul said QIMR Berghofer is now working to develop a method to predict the onset of hypoglycaemia in patients treated with insulin.
Professor Paul received Queensland Government Smart Futures funding for this ongoing project.
“This will help clinicians, carers and patients to improve blood sugar management, and reduce complications from this complex disease,” he said.
This study has been published online in Diabetes Care, a highly regarded research journal from the American Diabetes Association:
The research was supported by the Australian Government Department of Education’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy initiative through Therapeutic Innovation Australia.