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Hypoglycemic Episodes Won't Damage Brain

Finding is good news for diabetes struggling to control blood sugar

MONDAY, June 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Although diabetics who keep their blood glucose levels at the normal level reduce their risk of complications, they may also increase their chances of experiencing hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar, a new U.S. study says.

But another new study presented at the American Diabetes Association's annual meeting, in Washington, D.C., showed that episodes of severe low blood sugar do not impair brain function or cause decreased cognitive function in type 1 diabetics.

"This study provides further support for the safety of intensive diabetes therapy and the benefits of maintaining good glycemic control," lead researcher Dr. Alan M. Jacobson, head of the Joslin Diabetes Center's Behavioral and Mental Health Research Section and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

"While acute episodes of hypoglycemia can impair thinking and can even be life-threatening, patients with type 1 diabetes do not have to worry that such episodes will impair their long-term abilities to perceive, reason and remember," Jacobson said.

The Joslin Diabetes Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, George Washington University and the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) studied 1,059 type 1 diabetics for between 10 and 17 years to determine the effects of low blood sugar and tight blood sugar control.

Patient data came from several trials, and insulin therapies varied between insulin pump injections, manual injections three or more times a day, or one to two daily manual injections. Researchers analyzed the patients' abilities in several areas: problem solving, learning, short- and long-term memory, spatial information, attention span, and motor skills. After adjusting for a number of factors, blood sugar control was compared to level of competency in these areas.

Diabetics with higher A1Cs -- meaning that they had less tightly controlled blood sugar levels -- experienced moderate declines in motor skills, but not in any other capacities.

"This is very good news for patients with type 1diabetes," said Jacobson. "Severe hypoglycemia can still be a very dangerous condition. But with proper education, self-care and close medical follow-up, the risk of severe hypoglycemia can be lessened. Now we know that patients don't have to worry about damaging their mental abilities as they work to significantly decrease their risks of developing diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy and cardiovascular disease."

More information

To find out more about controlling blood sugar, head to the Mayo Clinic.

SOURCES: Joslin Diabetes Center, news release, June 12, 2006
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