What is Brittle Diabetes?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 May 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Brittle diabetes, which is also known as labile diabetes, refers to uncontrolled type 1 diabetes. Patients who are brittle diabetics typically suffer from large fluctuations in blood glucose levels. These large swings can either produce low blood sugar, which is called hypoglycemia, or high blood sugar, referred to as hyperglycemia. Generally, both conditions can become life threatening if medical intervention is not swiftly employed.

High blood sugar is seen more frequently, and can sometimes be life threatening. Brittle diabetes may be caused by the body's inability to properly absorb insulin and by hormone imbalances or malfunctions. In addition, hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency may worsen the condition. Sometimes, treating these conditions may result in an improvement of brittle diabetes, which may result in the need for multiple medications or higher dosages.

There is a difference in the physiology between brittle diabetes and stable diabetes. Generally, brittle diabetes is rare, while diabetes II, or stable diabetes is more common. Patients who have stable diabetes notice that their blood sugars fluctuate occasionally, however, the brittle diabetic's blood glucose level can fluctuate from minute to minute and vary widely. Frequently, the patient with brittle diabetes needs to be hospitalized because the condition may mandate constant medical monitoring and supervision.


Frequently, brittle diabetes is seen in individuals who experience psychological problems such as depression and stress. This may occur because these patients may neglect their health and have poor compliance with their medical regimes. When diabetics neglect to follow a healthy diet, test their blood sugar, and take prescribed medications, blood sugars frequently become unmanageable, resulting in brittle diabetes. In addition, stressed patients may incur a stress-related hormonal response, increasing glucose.

Symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes can be severe and dramatic. Many times, the brittle diabetic patient presents in the hospital emergency department with seizures, confusion, and lethargy. In addition, confusion, dizziness and vomiting can occur. Treatment includes regulating the blood glucose levels with either oral anti-diabetic agents or insulin injections. Many times, however, the intravenous medications to help regulate blood glucose levels may be necessary, as is treating the underlying cause of diabetes.

Patients who suffer from uncontrolled diabetes need to be monitored closely by their physicians. Ideally, the patient should be under the care of an endocrinologist. These doctors specialize in the treatment of diabetes and other disorders of the liver, pancreas, and thyroid gland. Treatment for brittle diabetics may include following a diabetic diet, taking prescribed medications and strictly monitoring blood glucose. In addition, a medically supervised exercise program may contribute to lower blood glucose readings.



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