Is Brittle Diabetes The Most Dangerous? (What Is It?)

is brittle diabetes the most dangerous

There are multiple forms of diabetes mellitus. During consultations with patients, people ask many questions, including which type of diabetes is the most dangerous. On occasion, an older term will come up, “Brittle” diabetes.

Brittle Diabetes can produce unpredictable high and low swings in blood sugar leading to a myriad of complications making Brittle Diabetes one of the most dangerous.  It is a term that was once commonly used to describe volatile blood sugar results in what was referred to as juvenile diabetes or type 1.

If you are concerned about your recent tests results consult with your Dr. and Diabetes educator. Let’s look at the Brittle Diabetes topic further.  

What Is Brittle Diabetes? (Labile Diabetes)

Many diabetics experience occasional blood sugar instability especially when taking insulin or certain other diabetes medications, including the sulfonylureas (glyburide, glimepiride, glipizide). However, these diabetics with extremely volatile blood sugar results experience wide and unpredictable swings in blood sugar that may not respond to traditional treatment.

“Brittle Diabetes,” is a form of diabetes mellitus defined by blood sugar instability. The term “Brittle” was used to described extreme blood glucose excursions, quick shifts from low too high and vice versa, particularly in a person with type 1 diabetes.

It is important to remember all forms of diabetes have the potential to be extremely dangerous if they are not addressed.

Please note that the term, “brittle” is no longer recognized or approved in medical terminology, according to the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.

“Brittle Diabetes,” (Labile or Volatile) Causes:

The root cause for volatile blood sugar results is low insulin levels. However, the cause for these low insulin levels varies from person to person.

If you suffer from this type of blood glucose instability, you may suffer from other related disorders like:

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy affects the non-voluntary, non-sensory nervous system, including the digestive tract. Diabetes is one of the most common causes. As nerves die in the digestive track — a consequence of type 1 diabetes — the bowels function more slower than usual. Consequently, insulin is absorbed more slowly and fails to control the body’s blood sugar levels.

Poor Insulin Absorption

Diabetics with poor insulin absorption have trouble producing insulin and just as much trouble absorbing supplemental insulin. This means that even with medication their body cannot internalize enough insulin to regulate their blood sugar.

Drug Interaction

Some drugs like alcohol and anti-psychotics can interfere with insulin or other diabetes medications. That interference nullifies the effect of medication and leads to unstable blood sugar levels.

Other Medical Problems

There are a number of medical problems that can result in unstable diabetes. Addison’s disease, poor thyroid or adrenal function, and other disorders can affect blood sugar levels or the body’s receptiveness to insulin.

Labile diabetes can have a number of underlying causes. Many of those causes are treatable. If you suspect that you have unstable diabetes, it is important to talk to your physician or diabetes educator. The sooner you seek treatment, the more quickly you can find a management program to reduce its effect on your life.

“Brittle” or Labile Diabetes: Life Expectancy

Labile diabetes is defined by its profound effects. The swings in blood sugar that these diabetics experience significantly shorten their lifespan. These are a few of the symptoms that negatively affect unstable diabetics:

Kidney Damage

The wide swings in blood pressure that brittle diabetics suffer wreak havoc on the small blood vessels. One consequence of this neuropathy is kidney damage and scarring. Over time, as the blood sugar swings continue to destroy the body, the kidneys may stop functioning altogether. In these cases, diabetics must undergo dialysis several times a week to stay alive.

Diabetic retinopathy

Small blood vessel damage also effects the eyes. Over time, sufferers gradually lose their vision. Diabetics may even go blind if they cannot get their blood pressure under control.


Neuropathy also affects the extremities. As the blood sugar fluctuations cause the nerves to die, diabetics feel numbness or tingling in the feet as the skin gets damaged. As the disease progresses, they may develop foot ulcers and other foot problems and may have to have their toes, feet or legs amputated.


One of the most insidious effects of brittle diabetes is its impact on your personal life. These diabetics often spend a considerable amount of time in the hospital because of their fluctuating blood sugar levels. The resulting bills, acknowledgment of shortened life expectancy and other concerns often have a profound effect on the psyche.

Final Thoughts

Any type of diabetes is the most dangerous form when the problem is neglected. Because blood sugar levels remain unregulated, manageable diabetic symptoms quickly get out of control. Due to advances in technology and medications, diabetes can be managed. People who have diabetes are living longer, healthier lives.

If you think you might suffer from labile or uncontrolled diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider about changing your medications or perhaps starting one.


Similar Posts