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Research Article

Management of severely brittle diabetes by continuous subcutaneous and intramuscular insulin infusions: evidence for a defect in subcutaneous insulin absorption.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981; 282 doi: (Published 31 January 1981) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981;282:347
  1. J C Pickup,
  2. P D Home,
  3. R W Bilous,
  4. H Keen,
  5. K G Alberti


    Severely brittle diabetes is defined as a rare subtype of insulin-dependent diabetes with wide, fast, unpredictable, and inexplicable swings in blood glucose concentration, often culminating in ketoacidosis or hypoglycaemic coma. To assess the role of inappropriate type, amount, or timing of insulin treatment and the route of administration as a cause of severe brittleness six patients with continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion, which provides a high degree of optimisation of dosage with exogenous insulin in stable diabetics. The glycaemic control achieved during continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion was compared with that during continuous intramuscular insulin infusion. Six patients with non-brittle diabetes were also treated by continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion. These patients achieved the expected improvement in glycaemic control (mean +/- SD plasma glucose concentration 5.1 +/- 2.3 mmol/l (92 +/- 41 mg/100 ml)), but not the patients with brittle diabetes remained uncontrolled with continuous subcutaneous infusion (13.6 +/- 5.8 mmol/1 (245 +/- 105 mg/100 ml) compared with 10.3 +/- 4.1 mmol/l (186 +/- 74 mg/100 ml) during treatment with optimised conventional subcutaneous injections). During continuous intramuscular infusion, however, glycaemic control in five of the patients with brittle diabetes was significantly improved (7.7 +/- 2.6 mmol/l (139 +/- 47 mg/100 ml). The remaining patient with brittle diabetes, previously safely controlled only with continuous intravenous insulin, did not respond to continuous intramuscular infusion. It is concluded that in five of the six patients with brittle diabetes studied here impaired or irregular absorption of insulin from the subcutaneous site played a more important part in their hyperlability than inappropriate injection strategies. This absorption defect was presumably bypassed by the intramuscular route.