Type 1 Diabetes Hypoglycemia Deaths Per Year
Several times a year I hear of severe hypoglycemia taking the life of another Type 1 diabetic. Most of us are familiar with “Dead in Bed” syndrome, which is the term used to refer to severely low blood sugars taking the lives of children as they sleep. Since these deaths almost always can be prevented with proper management of the disease, I set out to discover just how many Type 1s we’re losing every year, in particular due directly to severe hypoglycemia. Sure, a far greater number of diabetics are passing away indirectly from complications brought on by years of mismanaged blood sugars, but given that I’ve landed in the ER twice since being diagnosed in 2004, I’ve grown curious as to how many Type 1s are dying directly from severely low blood sugars.
Finding an answer to this question proved to be far more difficult than I had imagined. In fact, according to the Medtronic website (makers of my Revel Insulin Pump and CGM) and various other sources online, there is no official mortality rate for how many people die each year from hypoglycemia. This is unfortunate news. However, it is not due to mere ignorance. The problem is that after death the body can still release glucose, thereby making it difficult to determine if the deceased had suffered a hypoglycemic incident at the time of death.
Although there is no official statistic for the number of Type 1 diabetes deaths per year from hypoglycemia, I did come across a staggering figure that the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) displayed in an ad back in November of 2011. It states that 1 in 20 people with Type 1 Diabetes will die of low blood sugar. This figure is based on a number of studies by researchers P.E. Cryer, T. Deckert and W.M.G. Turnbridge, in addition to the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial that ran from 1983-1993. The JDRF ad itself displayed the photo of an eight-year-old Type 1 girl named Piper and was used to put pressure on the FDA to lay out a pathway to bring the artificial pancreas to market (a device that holds a great deal of promise for Type 1s, but also comes with a great deal of risk if it is not made to be foolproof).
The JDRF ad caused controversy among Type 1s, some of whom openly expressed their anger by calling the ad “sensational,” “painful,” and “unnecessary.” I beg to disagree. Regardless of what the JDRF’s intent was, knowing that statistic just might shock Type 1s enough that they do everything in their power not to be part of the 5% who don’t make it and rather join the 95% who do.