Brittle Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition that affects a large number of people.

The condition causes problems with the metabolism and regulation of glucose in the body, leading to an elevation in blood sugar levels.

In turn, many complications can develop, which can put the life of the patient in danger.

An estimated 9.4% of the American population suffers from diabetes mellitus.

There are different forms of the disease, with type 2 diabetes being more common among the different types.

While type 1 and type 2 diabetes are commonly discussed, it is important to note that there are other forms of the condition as well.

We take a closer look at Brittle Diabetes, including symptoms, causes, and potential treatment options.

What Is Brittle Diabetes?

Brittle diabetes is not a condition on its own, but rather a type of complication that can occur in patients who have previously been diagnosed with diabetes.

Other terms are sometimes used include Brittle diabetes mellitus and Labile diabetes.

Patients with brittle diabetes will experience changes in their blood sugar levels, varying from a hypoglycemia state to a hyperglycemic state.

In patients with brittle diabetes, the condition becomes difficult to control and manage. It is considered challenging to predict episodes of such a variation.

These patients may often find that they require lengthy stays in a hospital. Those with the type 1 diabetes form of the condition is more likely to develop the brittle disease.

Individuals who have brittle diabetes may become less aware of hypoglycemia states. So, when blood glucose levels become low, the individual may not be aware of this alteration in blood sugar levels. This can, in turn, cause life-threatening consequences to occur.

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Symptoms Of Brittle Diabetes

Brittle diabetes can become fatal, so patients are advised to learn the signs and symptoms of this complication.

When symptoms are experienced, a blood glucose test is needed to determine if a hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia state has occurred.

Additional treatment measures may also be required to help prevent further complications.

The symptoms experienced will depend on whether the patient’s blood sugar levels have increased rapidly or declined suddenly.

If the patient experiences hypoglycemia, the following symptoms may develop:

On the other hand, a sudden increase in blood glucose levels, leading to a state of hyperglycemia, may instead cause these symptoms:

  • Dry skin

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Blurred vision

  • Vision changes

  • Weakness

Causes Of Brittle Diabetes

Several potential causes have been linked to the development of brittle diabetes.

Individuals with an existing diabetic condition should ensure they understand both the risk factors and the causes behind brittle diabetes. This would make the person more aware of their own risk.

In the majority of cases where a person develops brittle diabetes, the cause behind this complication can be linked to nerve damage, which causes inconsistent digestion.

Some psychological issues have shown to increase the risk of developing brittle diabetes. Some psychological problems related to the condition include depression and stress.

Stress can bring on temporary insulin resistance, which may explain the sudden swings in glucose levels.

In addition to these factors, specific drug interactions, as well as problems with the absorption of insulin, can also contribute to brittle diabetes.

Women seem to be at a higher risk of developing the condition were compared to men.

The disease also tends to develop at a younger age in most cases. Thus, being aged 40 or younger seems to be another risk factor to be taken note of.

How Is Brittle Diabetes Diagnosed?

Brittle diabetes is quite a rare condition and is often considered difficult to diagnose.

One of the reasons why brittle diabetes is so hard to diagnose is because the problems it causes can also be linked to other potential factors.

For example, eating disorders, stress, celiac disease, and other factors have been linked to rapid changes in blood glucose levels.

A specialist will usually ask the patient to monitor their blood glucose levels closely. Additional tests may also be requested.

A look at potential causes will also be necessary. The specialist will consider and analyze all of the collected data to make a diagnosis.

Treatment Options

Treatment is sometimes tricky since brittle diabetes causes episodes that cannot be accurately predicted.

The patient may experience a sudden decline in blood glucose levels in one episode, yet a sudden increase in blood glucose levels another time.

Certain treatments have been proposed. An insulin pump is sometimes provided to the patient. This works to deliver adjusted insulin to the body according to the severity of the patient’s diabetes.

Medications will be provided, and the patient will be advised that they must remain on schedule to avoid complications.

Some newer treatment strategies have been suggested. The FDA approved an artificial pancreas in 2016. There is also the possibility of undergoing a procedure of islet cell transplantation.

In these cases, a deceased donor’s pancreas cells are transplanted into the patient’s pancreas with brittle diabetes. It has been found that this transplantation procedure seems to improve blood sugar control in patients with brittle diabetes.

Managing Brittle Diabetes Daily

The most important factor when it comes to living with brittle diabetes is to stay to the schedule provided by the medical team. The patient should ensure they take their medication at the right time each day.

Any suggestions provided need to be followed accurately and strictly, to minimize the risk of the patient experiencing episodes.

Continuous glucose monitoring is critical daily. Some patients may be advised to check their glucose levels multiple times a day. Diabetes management will involve recording glucose levels.

Patients may also opt for a continuous glucose monitoring sensor, which is placed underneath the skin. This device alerts the patient if there is a significant change in their blood sugar levels.

Nutritional guidelines will be provided to diabetic patients when they are diagnosed with brittle diabetes.

The patient should ensure they strictly adhere to these guidelines. Many foods can aggravate the condition, leading to a sudden change in blood glucose levels.

Additionally, exercise will most often also be advised to the patient. This will help to keep the body in a healthier state and may also be beneficial for the regulation of insulin production and metabolism. Exercise is especially important for obese patients with brittle diabetes.


Brittle diabetes is a term that is used to refer to a diabetic condition that is difficult to keep under control.

The patient may experience significant variations in blood sugar levels, to the point where the elevation or decline can become fatal in some cases.

The condition can develop in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Understanding the symptoms and taking action is critical to provide appropriate treatment to the patient.

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  7. Diabetes – Stress, Anxiety and Depression cited in regarding a Brazilian research paper presented at the America Diabetes Association 1998 Conference
  8. Günther,M, Winker, P, Wudy, S, Brosig, B. (2016). New Methods in Exploring Old Topics: Case Studying Brittle Diabetes in the Family Context. Journal of Diabetes Research. 1 (1), p1-9.

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