Treating hyperglycemia in neurocritical patients: Benefits and perils

Daniel A. Godoy, Mario Di Napoli, Alejandro A. Rabinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


There is growing debate over the value of intensive insulin therapy (IIT) in critically ill patients. Available trials have been performed in general medical or surgical intensive care units, and the results may not be directly applicable to patients with severe acute brain disease because these patients may have heightened susceptibility to hyperglycemia (HyperG) and hypoglycemia. Our objective was to review the pathophysiology and effects of HyperG and hypoglycemia in neurocritical patients and to analyze the potential role of IIT in this population. Source data were obtained from a PubMed search of the medical literature combining the terms HyperG, hypoglycemia, insulin, stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury (SCI), and related diagnoses. Brain metabolism is highly dependent on constant supply of glucose. As a consequence, the acutely injured brain is particularly sensitive to hypoglycemia, which can induce a state of energy failure (metabolic crisis). Meanwhile, neurocritical patients have a high prevalence of HyperG, and its occurrence is associated with poor outcome after acute ischemic stroke, ICH, SAH, and TBI. It is unclear whether this association is due to direct detrimental effects exerted by HyperG or simply represents a marker of severe brain injury. Insulin has been shown to have various potentially pleiotropic neuroprotective properties in experimental models. However, the safety and efficacy of IIT in patients with critical brain disease have not been well studied. Available results do not support the use of IIT to maintain strict normoglycemia in this population. Patients with critical brain disease should have frequent glucose monitoring because severe HyperG and even modest hypoglycemia may be detrimental. Careful use of insulin infusion protocols appears advisable, but maintenance of strict normoglycemia cannot be recommended. Rigorous studies must be conducted to assess the value of insulin therapy and to determine the optimal blood glucose targets in patients with the most common acute vascular and traumatic brain insults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-438
Number of pages14
JournalNeurocritical care
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010


  • Hyperglycemia
  • Insulin
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Treating hyperglycemia in neurocritical patients: Benefits and perils'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this