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Hyperglycemia in acutely ill emergency patients — Cause or effect?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2015

William R. Henderson*
Departments of Emergency Medicine and Critical Care Medicine, Royal Columbian Hospital, New Westminster, BC UBC Program of Critical Care Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Vancouver, BC
Dean R. Chittock
UBC Program of Critical Care Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, Vancouver, BC
Vinay K. Dhingra
UBC Program of Critical Care Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Juan J. Ronco
UBC Program of Critical Care Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
Departments of Emergency Medicine & Critical Care, Royal Columbian Hospital, 330 E Columbia St., New Westminster BC V3L 3W7


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To clarify the benefits, risks and timing of glucose control and intensive insulin therapy in several groups, specifically the neurologic, cardiac and septic populations of patients, commonly seen in the emergency department.


Electronic search of MEDLINE (1966–2005; once with PubMed and once with Ovid) and Embase (1980–2005) using the terms insulin and glucose combined with emergency medicine, intensive care, cardiology and emergency department.


There is considerable controversy in the literature surrounding the use of strict glucose control in cardiac, neurologic and septic patients. Much of this literature is non-randomized, and the timing of therapy is poorly investigated.


Hyperglycemia is associated with adverse outcomes in acutely ill neurologic, cardiac and septic patients, but it remains unclear whether this is a causative association. Glucose control and intensive insulin therapy may be useful in some patient subgroups; however, controlled trials of aggressive glycemic control have provided insufficient evidence to justify subjecting patients to the real risks of iatrogenic hypoglycemia. We recommend a cautious approach to the control of glucose levels in acutely ill emergency department patients, with a target glucose of below 8 to 9 mmol/L.

Education • Éducation
Copyright © Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians 2006


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