Barbara Boughton

April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011 (San Diego, California) — A national online survey of more than 2530 adults living with type 2 diabetes mellitus in the United States reveals that many patients remain uneducated about the risks for hypoglycemia. The survey also highlighted why hypoglycemia may be more of a health hazard than previously reported, as patients said they often experience low blood sugar during daily activities such as working and driving. The results of the survey were announced here at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) 20th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress.

In the survey, 55% of respondents said they had experienced at least 1 episode of hypoglycemia. Of 702 patients with diabetes who reported hypoglycemia, 42% had experienced low blood sugar symptoms while working, 26% while exercising, and 19% while driving.

The fact that patients with diabetes experience hypoglycemia while working and driving is especially problematic, as these activities require focus and concentration, and experiencing hypoglycemia during driving can be life-threatening, said Etie Moghissi, MD, vice president and president-elect of AACE, and an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California–Los Angeles.

"Many patients are unable to name the leading causes of hypoglycemia, which is also a great cause for concern," Dr. Moghissi said. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed did not know that the leading causes of hypoglycemia included skipping meals, and 35% did not know that some diabetic medications may enhance the risk for hypoglycemia. Forty-six percent of patients with type 2 diabetes also remained unaware that excessive exercise may bring on hypoglycemia, particularly when combined with some medications for type 2 diabetes.

Although the study clearly showed that at least half (52%) of the patients surveyed were concerned about experiencing a future episode of hypoglycemia, some did not know that the most common symptoms are dizziness (22%) and shakiness (17%), and 39% incorrectly thought that thirst was the primary symptom of hypoglycemia.

Although hypoglycemia has long been known to be a risk associated with diabetes and its treatment, it often falls under the radar of busy physicians, particularly those in primary care, who may be treating patients for other conditions, Dr. Moghissi noted. Yet hypoglycemia has clear risks, as well as being an expensive burden for the healthcare system. Indeed, the survey showed that 6% of patients who responded to the online survey had to be treated for hypoglycemia in the emergency room.

"The survey shows that it's important to inform patients about the causes, symptoms, and how to address hypoglycemia," Dr. Moghissi said in an interview with Medscape Medical News. To achieve that goal, the American College of Endocrinology recently launched a program called Blood Sugar Basics, an educational program with an interactive Web site that includes fact pages on how patients with diabetes can best manage their blood sugar levels.

The online survey was designed by the American College of Endocrinology and supported by Merck. ACE is the educational and scientific arm of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology and focuses on professional education and public health information. Dr. Moghissi has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) 20th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress. To be presented April 15, 2011.

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