“Short-term hospitalization [for reasons other than diabetes] may not be the time to intervene in long-term diabetes management,” researchers conclude.
They found that, in a national cohort of older almost entirely male veterans with non–insulin-treated type 2 diabetes who were hospitalized for non–diabetes-related common medical conditions, intensified diabetes treatment on hospital discharge was linked to an increased risk of severe hypoglycemia in the immediate postdischarge period.
However, diabetes treatment intensification – that is, receiving a prescription for a new or higher dose of diabetes medicine – was not associated with decreased risks of severe hyperglycemia or with improved glycemic (hemoglobin A1c) control at 30 days or 1 year, according to study results,in JAMA Network Open.
“We didn’t see a reduction in diabetes emergencies in more intensively treated patients,” lead investigator Timothy S. Anderson, MD, said in an interview.
Also, importantly, there was a low rate of persistence with the new treatment. “Half of the patients were no longer taking these [intensified diabetes medicines] at 1 year, which tells me that context is key,” he pointed out. “If a patient is in the hospital for diabetes [unlike the patients in this study], I think it makes a lot of sense to modify and adjust their regimen to try to help them right then and there.”
The overall risk of severe hyperglycemia or severe hypoglycemia was pretty small in the overall cohort, Dr. Anderson noted, “but we do put people at risk of leaving the hospital and ending up back in the hospital with low blood sugar when we intensify medications, and there’s not necessarily a good signal to suggest that it’s all that urgent to change these medicines.”
Instead, the “safer path” may be to make recommendations to the patient’s outpatient physician and also inform the patient – for example, “We saw some concerns about your diabetes while you were in the hospital, and this is really something that should be looked at when you’re recovered and feeling better from the rest of your health standpoint” – rather than making a diabetes medication change while the person is acutely ill or recovering from illness, said Dr. Anderson, from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston.
The researchers also found an “unexpected” significant decrease in 30-day mortality in the patients with intensified diabetes treatment, which was probably because of confounding that was not accounted for, Dr. Anderson speculated, since clinical trials have consistently shown that benefits from diabetes medications take a longer time to show an effect.
‘Important study,’ but lacked newer meds
This is an “important” study for primary care and in-hospital physicians that shows that “hospitalization is really not the time and the place” to intensify diabetes medication, Rozalina G. McCoy, MD, coauthor of an invited, told this news organization in an interview.
“While overcoming treatment inertia is important, [it should be] done appropriately, so that we don’t overtreat patients,” Dr. McCoy, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., stressed.
The very low rate of persistence of taking intensified medications is a major finding, she agreed. Hospitalized patients “are not in their usual state of health, so if we make long-term treatment decisions based on their acute abnormal situation, that may not be appropriate.”
However, patients with high A1c may benefit from a change at hospital discharge rather than when they see their primary care provider, with the caveat that they need close follow-up as an outpatient.
The study emphasizes the “need for longitudinal patient care rather than episodic patches,” according to Dr. McCoy.
For example, a patient who is hospitalized for a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma exacerbation may be receiving steroids that cause high blood glucose levels but as soon as they’re done with their steroid course, blood glucose will decrease, so the “need for close outpatient follow-up is very important.”
One limitation of the current work is that an earlier study in the same population by the research group showed that 49% of patients whose treatment regimens were intensified had limited life expectancy or were at or below their A1c goal, so they would not have benefited from the stepped-up treatment, she noted.
Another limitation is that the findings cannot be generalized to women or younger patients, or to patients treated with glucagonlike peptide 1 (GLP-1)–receptor agonists or sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors.
The study patients were seen in the U.S. Veterans Health Administration health system when these newer agents were not used. Three-quarters of patients received intensified treatment with sulfonylurea or insulin, and only one patient received a new GLP-1–receptor agonist.
Ideally, Dr. McCoy said, patients should have been prescribed a GLP-1–receptor agonist if they had atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or kidney disease, or an SGLT2 inhibitor if they had kidney disease or heart failure, which may have led to different results, and would need to be determined in further study.
Dr. Anderson agreed that “SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP1 agonists are broadly much safer than the older diabetes medicines, at least when it comes to risk of hypoglycemia, and may have more clear benefits in heart disease and mortality. So I would not want to extrapolate our findings to those new classes,” he said. “A similar set of studies would need to be done.”