Hypoglycemia-Associated Autonomic Failure in Advanced Type 2 Diabetes

Scott A. Segel, Deanna S. Paramore, and Philip E. Cryer 

From the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, and the General Clinical Research Center and the Diabetes Research and Training Center, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri

We tested the hypotheses that the glucagon response to hypoglycemia is reduced in patients who are approaching the insulin-deficient end of the spectrum of type 2 diabetes and that recent antecedent hypoglycemia shifts the glycemic thresholds for autonomic (including adrenomedullary epinephrine) and symptomatic responses to hypoglycemia to lower plasma glucose concentrations in type 2 diabetes. Hyperinsulinemic stepped hypoglycemic clamps (85, 75, 65, 55, and 45 mg/dl steps) were performed on two consecutive days, with an additional 2 h of hypoglycemia (50 mg/dl) in the afternoon of the first day, in 13 patients with type 2 diabetes-7 treated with oral hypoglycemic agents (OHA Rx; mean [±SD] HbA1C 8.6 ± 1.1%) and 6 requiring therapy with insulin for an average of 5 years and with reduced C-peptide levels (insulin Rx, HbA1C 7.5 ± 0.7%) and 15 nondiabetic control subjects. The glucagon response to hypoglycemia was virtually absent (P= 0.0252) in the insulin-deficient type 2 diabetic patients (insulin Rx mean [±SE] final values of 52 ± 16 vs. 93 ± 15 pg/ml in control subjects and 98 ± 16 pg/ml in type 2 diabetic patients, OHA Rx on day 1). Glucagon (P=0.0015), epinephrine (P=0.0002), and norepinephrine (P=0.0138) responses and neurogenic (P=0.0149) and neuroglycopenic (P= 0.0015) symptom responses to hypoglycemia were reduced on day 2 after hypoglycemia on day 1 in type 2 diabetic patients; these responses were not eliminated, but their glycemic thresholds were shifted to lower plasma glucose concentrations. In addition, the glycemic thresholds for these responses were at higher-than-normal plasma glucose concentrations (P=0.0082, 0.0028, 0.0023, and 0.0182, respectively) at baseline (day 1) in OHA Rx type 2 diabetic patients, with relatively poorly controlled diabetes. Because the glucagon response to falling plasma glucose levels is virtually absent and the glycemic thresholds for autonomic and symptomatic responses to hypoglycemia are shifted to lower glucose concentrations by recent antecedent hypoglycemia, patients with advanced type 2 diabetes, like those with type 1 diabetes, are at risk for hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure and the resultant vicious cycle of recurrent iatrogenic hypoglycemia. 


Segel SA, Paramore DS, Cryer PE. Hypoglycemia-Associated Autonomic Failure in Advanced Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes. 2002;51:724-733.


Last Modified: 2/1/2013