Overtreatment of Type 2 diabetes common, dangerous

By Laura Mize • Published: September 9th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When it comes to diabetes treatment, a person can definitely have too much of a good thing.

Managing diabetes is a delicate balancing act to keep a patient’s blood sugar within an acceptable range. When blood sugar levels are too high, nerves, blood vessels and other organs can be damaged. On the other hand, low blood sugar can cause someone to have a seizure, lose consciousness or develop cardiac symptoms.

That’s why a carefully planned and executed treatment plan is so important for everyone with diabetes. But researchers from the Mayo Clinic are now cautioning against what they call “intensive” treatment, which they say risks pushing patients into the danger zone of hypoglycemia, or excessively low blood sugar. Their findings were published recently in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

This so-called intensive treatment involves prescribing too many diabetes management medications for a patient relative to his or her severity of disease. Some people with diabetes have higher blood sugar than others, and require more treatment and medications. Established clinical guidelines help inform health care providers how intensive treatment should be in a given patient.

Through a survey of Type 2 diabetes patients, the researchers concluded that 20 to 27 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes in the United States may be receiving more intensive treatment than their disease severity warrants. For patients deemed “high complexity” —which includes the elderly and those with certain other chronic health concerns — this intensive treatment is especially dangerous. The researchers found that it almost doubled their risk of extreme hypoglycemia.

For patients and physicians, the message is clear: Overtreating diabetes can be as problematic as too little treatment.