What is the pathophysiology of hypoglycemia in pediatric type 1 diabetes mellitus (DM)?

Updated: Jul 03, 2019
  • Author: William H Lamb, MD, MBBS, FRCP(Edin), FRCP, FRCPCH; Chief Editor: Sasigarn A Bowden, MD  more...
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Answer

Insulin inhibits glucogenesis and glycogenolysis, while stimulating glucose uptake. In nondiabetic individuals, insulin production by the pancreatic islet cells is suppressed when blood glucose levels fall below 83 mg/dL (4.6 mmol/L). If insulin is injected into a treated child with diabetes who has not eaten adequate amounts of carbohydrates, blood glucose levels progressively fall.

The brain depends on glucose as a fuel. As glucose levels drop below 65 mg/dL (3.2 mmol/L) counterregulatory hormones (eg, glucagon, cortisol, epinephrine) are released, and symptoms of hypoglycemia develop. These symptoms include sweatiness, shaking, confusion, behavioral changes, and, eventually, coma when blood glucose levels fall below 30-40 mg/dL.

The glucose level at which symptoms develop varies greatly from individual to individual (and from time to time in the same individual), depending in part on the duration of diabetes, the frequency of hypoglycemic episodes, the rate of fall of glycemia, and overall control. (Glucose is also the sole energy source for erythrocytes and the kidney medulla.)

A study by Chan et al indicated that in pediatric patients with type 1 diabetes, the presence of hypoglycemia is a sign of decreased insulin sensitivity, while hyperglycemia in these patients, especially overnight, signals improved sensitivity to insulin. In contrast, the investigators found evidence that in pediatric patients with type 2 diabetes, markers of metabolic syndrome and hyperglycemia are associated with reduced insulin sensitivity. Patients in the study were between ages 12 and 19 years. [23]


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