Hypoglycemia-Associated Autonomic Failure in Diabetes

  • Philip E. Cryer
  • Ana Maria Arbelaez
Part of the Contemporary Endocrinology book series (COE)


The concept of hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure in diabetes posits that in patients with absolute endogenous insulin-deficient diabetes (type 1 diabetes or advanced type 2 diabetes), necessarily imperfect insulin replacement results in falling plasma glucose concentrations, but no decrease in insulin secretion and no increase in glucagon secretion, and, thus, recurrent episodes of hypoglycemia. Those episodes (as well as sleep or prior exercise) attenuate adrenomedullary epinephrine secretion and sympathetic neural activation in response to subsequent hypoglycemia. In the setting of absent insulin and glucagon responses, the attenuated epinephrine responses cause the clinical syndrome of defective glucose counterregulation which is associated with a 25-fold or greater increased risk of severe iatrogenic hypoglycemia during intensive glycemic therapy. The attenuated sympathetic neural responses cause the clinical syndrome of hypoglycemia unawareness, which is associated with at least a sixfold increased risk of severe iatrogenic hypoglycemia during intensive glycemic therapy. The resulting recurrent hypoglycemia further attenuates the sympathoadrenal responses to falling plasma glucose concentrations. The research findings, all in humans, that led to this concept, the current views of its pathogenesis, and a potential approach to its prevention are the topics of this chapter.


Diabetes Hypoglycemia Defective glucose counterregulation Hypoglycemia unawareness Epinephrine Glucagon Adrenal medulla Sympathetic nervous system Sympathoadrenal system Hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure 



This chapter was prepared by the authors without external support. Dr. Cryer has served as a consultant to Novo Nordisk A/S in recent years. Dr. Arbelaez has nothing to declare.

Many of the early studies cited were supported by grants to Dr. Cryer from the National Institutes of Health (e.g., R01 DK27085) and from the American Diabetes Association and by a general clinical research center grant (M01 RR00036) from NIH.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA

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