What is Brittle Diabetes?

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Note: This article is part of our library of resources for Forms of Diabetes. 


What is Brittle Diabetes?

Brittle diabetes is a rare form of insulin-dependent diabetes and is marked by frequent and severe episodes of hypoglycemia and/or hyperglycemia (DKA). This instability of blood sugar levels often leads to hospitalization and necessitates frequent self-monitoring of blood glucose, the use of an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM). In rare cases, a pancreas transplant may be necessary.

What causes Brittle diabetes?

There can be many causes of Brittle diabetes, but here are some of the most frequent ones (NIH):

  • Emotional stress
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Poor personal care
  • Malabsorption (when your small intestine cannot absorb nutrients from foods)
  • Autonomic neuropathy complications (such as delayed gastric emptying)
  • Celiac disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • systemic insulin resistance
  • abnormal insulin absorption
  • Impaired glucose counter-regulation (the patient’s body doesn’t react predictably when blood glucose levels drop)
  • Drug or alcohol use

Who does it affect?

Brittle diabetes primarily affects those with Type 1 diabetes and is most common in women in their 20s and 30s, but can occur in men as well and at any age. It affects 3/1000 insulin-dependent individuals (NCBI).