Patient experience of hypoglycaemia unawareness in Type 1 diabetes: are patients appropriately concerned?

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Abstract

Objective

Risk of severe hypoglycaemia is increased by absence of subjective awareness of hypoglycaemia and reduced by avoidance of minor hypoglycaemia. For many, problems persist despite educational strategies that work for others. We explored psychological factors that might inhibit the efforts of an individual in hypoglycaemia avoidance.

Methods

People with Type 1 diabetes and hypoglycaemia unawareness gave semi-structured interviews exploring their perceptions and experiences of their condition. Identified factors were grouped into categories and analysed to establish links and form a grounded theory in a constant comparative analysis. A questionnaire was devised from the qualitative analysis to identify patients with problematic beliefs about their hypoglycaemia.

Results

Saturation (no new themes emerging) was reached with 17 patients. Responses fell into two groups: high concern and low concern regarding hypoglycaemia unawareness. Those in the first group described severe hypoglycaemia as aversive and wanted to regain awareness. The second group included three patients in whom unawareness was not associated with severe hypoglycaemia, nevertheless unhelpful attitudes which inhibited hypoglycaemia avoidance were expressed. Responses from this group fell into categories: (1) normalizing the presence of unawareness; (2) underestimating its consequences; (3) wanting to avoiding the ‘sick role’; and (4) overestimating the consequences of hyperglycaemia.

Conclusions

A qualitative analysis of patient interviews identified deficits in education, technology and motivation in hypoglycaemia unawareness. Interventions can therefore be tailored to target underlying problems that prevent individual patients from regaining awareness. A brief assessment tool was devised to categorize patients' hypoglycaemia unawareness accordingly. Psychological interventions should be developed to address the problems of ‘low concern’ regarding hypoglycaemia unawareness.

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