Severe hypoglycaemia affects approximately one in three people with type 1 diabetes and is the most serious side effect of insulin therapy. Our aim was to explore individualistic drivers of severe hypoglycaemia events.
In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 17 adults with type 1 diabetes and a history of recurrent severe hypoglycaemia, to elicit experiences of hypoglycaemia (symptoms/awareness, progression from mild to severe and strategies for prevention/treatment). Interviews were analysed using an adapted grounded theory approach.
Three main themes emerged: hypoglycaemia-induced cognitive impairment, behavioural factors and psychological factors. Despite experiencing early hypoglycaemic symptoms, individuals often delayed intervention due to impaired/distracted attention, inaccurate risk assessment, embarrassment, worry about rebound hyperglycaemia or unavailability of preferred glucose source. Delay coupled with use of a slow-acting glucose source compromised prevention of severe hypoglycaemia.
Our qualitative data highlight the multifaceted, idiosyncratic nature of severe hypoglycaemia and confirm that individuals with a history of recurrent severe hypoglycaemia may have specific thought and behaviour risk profiles. Individualised prevention plans are required, emphasising both the need to attend actively to mild hypoglycaemic symptoms and to intervene promptly with an appropriate, patient-preferred glucose source to prevent progression to severe hypoglycaemia.