Baillière's Best Practice & Research. Clinical Anaesthesiology vol:23 issue:4 pages:421-429
While stress hyperglycaemia has traditionally been regarded as an adaptive, beneficial response, it is clear that hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia are associated with increased risk of death in critically ill intensive care unit (ICU) patients. Recent studies on blood-glucose control failed to fully clarify whether this association is causal. Early proof-of-concept single-centre randomised controlled studies found that maintaining normoglycaemia by intensive insulin therapy, as compared with tolerating hyperglycaemia as an adaptive response, improved patient outcome. However, recent large multicentre studies VISEP, GLUCONTROL and NICE-SUGAR) could not confirm this survival benefit. Methodological disparity in the execution of the complex intervention of tight glycaemic control may have contributed significantly to the contradicting results. First, different target ranges for blood glucose were used in the control group of the GLUCONTROL and 'Normoglycemia in intensive care evaluation and survival using glucose algorithm' regulation' (NICE-SUGAR) studies. Second, problems to steer blood-glucose levels within target range in the intervention group resulted in a significant overlap of the treatment groups. Third, allowing inaccurate blood-glucose measurement devices, in combination with different blood sampling sites and types of infusion pumps, may have led to unnoticed swings in blood-glucose levels. Fourth, the level of expertise of the intensive care nurses with the therapy may have been variable due to low number of study patients per centre. Finally, the studies on tight blood-glucose control were done with vastly different nutritional and end-of-life strategies. The currently available studies do not allow to confidently recommend one optimal target for glucose in heterogeneous ICU patient groups and settings. Provided that adequate devices for blood-glucose measurement and insulin administration are available, together with an extensive experience of the nursing staff, blood-glucose levels should be controlled as close to normal as possible, without evoking unacceptable fluctuations and hypoglycaemia.