Hypoglycemia: Many Diabetics Do Not Know Most Common Symptoms Like Dizziness and Shakiness Linked to Low Blood Sugar

NEW survey data released at a press conference today at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) 20th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress reveal that more than half (55%) of people with type 2 diabetes across the country report they have experienced hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. But, surprisingly, 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. Indeed, hypoglycemia has clear risks, as well as being an expensive burden for the healthcare system.

This survey of 2,530 adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes assessed patients’ personal experience with and knowledge about low blood sugar, and was conducted online in November and December 2010 by Harris Interactive. (See details below)

Hypoglycemia occurs when the level of glucose in the blood is too low for the body’s needs. Symptoms that may be caused by low blood sugar include nervousness or anxiety, shakiness, sweating, tiredness, confusion, hunger, fast heartbeat and dizziness. Low blood sugar usually is caused by eating less or later than usual, changes in physical activity, or a diabetes medicine that is not matched to your needs.

Many diabetics experienced hypoglycemia during typical daily activities such as working (42%), exercising (26%) and driving (19%), according to the survey designed by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE). Recognizing symptoms like nervousness, sweating or shakiness before engaging in common activities is important to help reduce the risk of serious consequences, such as fainting or loss of consciousness.

(These eye-popping results can be extrapolated to other countries as well. I mean, if this is happening in America where the level of diabetes awareness is high thanks to a widespread education program, one can only speculate about the scenario in less developed countries like India and China.)

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 in Los Angeles.

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. “Many patients are unable to name the leading causes of hypoglycemia, which is also a great cause for concern,” Moghissi confirmed.

Low blood sugar can be caused by skipping meals or irregular mealtimes, sudden increase in or excessive exercise, or certain diabetes medications. In this survey, a number of patients with type 2 diabetes were unable to identify the leading causes, including skipping meals, such as breakfast (27%), and certain diabetes medications (35%). 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.

These results suggest there is a need for better education and understanding of the common causes, signs and symptoms of low blood sugar. Learning to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar and quickly treating them is important – symptoms may be mild at first but may worsen quickly if not treated. According to the survey, 6 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes have had to go to the emergency room at some point as a result of low blood sugar.

To help bridge this knowledge gap, ACE recently launched the Blood Sugar Basics program, which aims to help people living with diabetes, their families and loved ones learn about the importance of understanding and managing low and high blood sugar. While the program is focused on type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, it also may be useful for people with other types of diabetes.

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, Moghissi noted. “The survey shows that it’s important to inform patients about the causes, symptoms, and how to address hypoglycemia,” Moghissi stressed.

“Low blood sugar can be an alarming experience for people with type 2 diabetes, and failure to recognize and treat symptoms in a timely manner can cause serious complications,” says Moghissi, adding, “Low blood sugar can be avoided, so it’s important for patients to know what can cause blood sugar levels to drop and talk with their doctor about how they can reduce the frequency of future episodes.”

The need for emergency care is just one of the potential consequences resulting from untreated low blood sugar. The survey also indicated that about one in five (21%) patients who have experienced it have needed assistance from others. It is important that patients and their friends, family and caregivers recognize and understand the symptoms of low blood sugar and what to do if it occurs.

Survey Design

This survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive between November 17 and December 14, 2010, among 2,530 adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus in the United States. This included 1,308 nationally sampled respondents, as well as oversamples in the following metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs): Cleveland (n=261), Dallas (n=208), Detroit (n=222), Houston (n=211), St. Louis (n=200), San Diego (n=120). Results were weighted as needed for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income. Propensity score weighting also was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. A full methodology is available upon request. The survey was developed by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE) and supported by Merck.

About Blood Sugar Basics

Blood Sugar Basics is an educational program aimed to help people living with diabetes, their families and loved ones learn about the importance of blood sugar control as part of a successful diabetes treatment plan. The program was developed by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE) and supported by Merck.

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