“Intensive versus Conventional Glucose Control in Critically Ill Patients”

by the Normoglycemia in Intensive Care Evaluation–Survival Using Glucose Algorithm Regulation (NICE-SUGAR) investigators

N Engl J Med 2009;360:1283-97. [free full text]

On the wards we often hear 180 mg/dL used as the upper limit of acceptable for blood glucose with the understanding that tighter glucose control in inpatients can lead to more harm than benefit. The relevant evidence base comes from ICU populations, with scant direct data in non-ICU patients. The 2009 NICE-SUGAR study is the largest and best among this evidence base.

The study randomized ICU patients (expected to require 3 or more days of ICU-level care) to either “intensive” glucose control (target glucose 81 to 108 mg/dL) or conventional glucose control (target of less than 180 mg/dL). The primary outcome was 90-day all-cause mortality.

6104 patients were randomized to the two arms, and both groups had similar baseline characteristics. 27.5% of patients in the intensive-control group died versus 24.9% in the conventional-control group (OR 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28, p= 0.02). Severe hypoglycemia (< 40 mg/dL) was found in 6.8% of intensive patients but only 0.5% of conventional patients.

In conclusion, intensive glucose control increases mortality in ICU patients. The fact that only 20% of these patients had diabetes mellitus suggests that much of the hyperglycemia treated in this study (97% of intensive group received insulin, 69% of conventional) was from stress, critical illness, and corticosteroid use. For ICU patients, intensive insulin therapy is clearly harmful, but the ideal target glucose range remains controversial and by expert opinion appears to be 140-180. For non-ICU inpatients with or without diabetes mellitus, the ideal glucose target is also unclear – the ADA recommends 140-180, and the Endocrine Society recommends a pre-meal target of < 140 and random levels < 180.

References / Further Reading:
1. ADA Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes 2016 (skip to page S99)
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. Visual Abstract @ VisualMed

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Würfelzucker — 2018 — 3564” / CC BY-SA 4.0

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