Hypoglycaemia in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a review of risk factors, consequences and prevention

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The prevalence of diabetes in the elderly is high. Hypoglycaemia is a treatment-related complication of diabetes. Owing to age-related changes, decreased perception of hypoglycaemic symptoms, comorbidities and polypharmacy, elderly diabetic persons are at a greater risk of developing hypoglycaemia. Other risk factors include longer duration of diabetes, history of previous hypoglycaemic episodes, intensive glycaemic control, poor nutrition or missed meals and recent hospitalisation. Insulin and sulphonylureas are the medication classes most frequently associated with hypoglycaemia. Other antidiabetic medications typically cause hypoglycaemia only when used in combination with sulphonylureas or insulin. Hypoglycaemia in older people is associated with loss of independence, increased morbidity and mortality. Prevention of hypoglycaemia requires recognition of the risk, identification of precipitating factors, patient and caregiver education, appropriate prescribing and ongoing health professional support.

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