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.
In the survey, 55% of respondents said they had experienced at least one 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.
Many patients were unable to name the leading causes of hypoglycemia, which is a great cause for concern. 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 certain 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 stated, stated Etie Moghissi, MD, vice president and president-elect of AACE, and an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California–Los Angeles. 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.
Dr. Moghissi noted that, "The survey shows that it's important to inform patients about the causes, symptoms, and how to address hypoglycemia." To achieve that goal, the American College of Endocrinology recently launched a program called Blood Sugar Basics, an educational program with an interactive website that includes fact pages on how patients with diabetes can best manage their blood sugar levels.
The results of the survey were announced at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) 20th Annual Meeting and Clinical Congress. April 15, 2011.