Diabetics who expeience episodes of severe hypoglycemia—or dangerously low blood sugar levels—are more likely to experience major complications and die within five years, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Although researchers were reluctant to declare that severe hypoglycemia causes complications—such as stroke, heart attacks, kidney damage and eye problems—they noted that the episodes appear to be linked to serious complications, and note that doctors should watch patients carefully for the related complications.
About 23.6 million children and adults in the United States—or 7.8 percent of the population—have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Although doctors typically try to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic patients, the study is more proof that it can be dangerous to lower blood sugar too much.
Dr. Sophia Zoungas of the University of Sydney in Australia and a team of colleagues analyzed data from 11,140 individuals with type 2 diabetes who participated in the Action in Diabetes and Vascular Disease: Preterax and Diamicron Modified Release Controlled Evaluation (ADVANCE) trial—which compared intensive treatment with a formulation of gliclazide to standard glucose lowering.
In the study, 231 patients, or 2.1 percent, had 299 severe episodes of low blood sugar over five years. Those who had hypoglycemia were 3.5 times more likely than those who didn't to have a heart attack or stroke, about 2.2 times more likely to suffer from eye damage or kidney disease and about 3.3 times more likely to die from all causes, the study showed.
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