Patient Care

Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations Due to Insulin


Clinical question: What is the national burden of ED visits and hospitalizations for insulin-related hypoglycemia?

Background: As the prevalence of diabetes mellitus continues to rise, the use of insulin and the burden of insulin-related hypoglycemia on our healthcare system will increase. By identifying high-risk populations and analyzing the circumstances of insulin-related hypoglycemia, we might be able to identify and employ strategies to decrease the risk of insulin use.

Study design: Observational study using national adverse drug surveillance database and national household survey.

Setting: U.S. hospitals, excluding psychiatric and penal institutions.

Synopsis: Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System–Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance (NEISS-CADES) Project and the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the authors estimated the rates and characteristics of ED visits and hospitalizations for insulin-related hypoglycemia. The authors estimated that about 100,000 ED visits occur nationally and that almost one-third of those visits result in hospitalization. Compared to younger patients treated with insulin, patients 80 years or older were more likely to present to the ED (rate ratio, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.5-4.3) and much more likely to be subsequently hospitalized (rate ratio, 4.9; 95% CI, 2.6-9.1) for insulin-related hypoglycemia.

The most common causes of insulin-induced hypoglycemia were failure to reduce insulin during periods of reduced food intake and confusion between short-acting and long-acting insulin. The authors suggest that looser glycemic control be sought in elderly patients to decrease the risk of insulin-related hypoglycemia and subsequent sequelae. Patient education addressing common insulin errors might also decrease the burden of ED visits and hospitalizations related to insulin.

Bottom line: Risks of hypoglycemia in patients older than 80 should be considered prior to starting an insulin regimen or prior to increasing the dose of insulin.

Citation: Geller AI, Shehab N, Lovegrove MC, et al. National estimates of insulin-related hypoglycemia and errors leading to emergency department visits and hospitalizations. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(5):678-686.

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