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Hyperglycaemia, diabetes, and other endocrine emergencies 

Hyperglycaemia, diabetes, and other endocrine emergencies
Hyperglycaemia, diabetes, and other endocrine emergencies

Yves Debaveye

, Dieter Mesotten

, and Greet Van den Berghe


February 22, 2018: This chapter has been re-evaluated and remains up-to-date. No changes have been necessary.

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date: 14 July 2020

Although endocrine pathology is usually treated in outpatient clinic, intensive care may be required when endocrinopathies are associated with other medical illnesses or reach a state of decompensation. Although endocrine emergencies are quite rare, they are potentially life-threatening, if not recognized promptly and managed effectively. Therefore, every clinician should always be attentive to a possible diagnosis of these complex disorders. The three major diabetic emergencies comprise diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperglycaemic hyperosmolar state, and prolonged hypoglycaemia. Hyperglycaemic crises are characterized by hypovolaemia, electrolyte disturbances, and potentially life-threatening triggers. Hence, airway-breathing-circulation securement, diagnosis and treatment of the underlying condition, and fluid resuscitation are the cornerstones of acute diabetic ketoacidosis/hyperglycaemic hyperosmolar state management. Subsequently, monitoring and correction of electrolyte disturbances and insulin treatment are initiated. Profound hypoglycaemia should be suspected in every coma patient with an indistinct history or treated with insulin or sulfonylurea/meglitinide. This condition warrants an immediate and a sufficiently long administration of glucose, under blood glucose monitoring. Alternatively, glucagon may be injected subcutaneously, or preferably intramuscularly. Hyperglycaemia in intensive care unit patients is associated with adverse outcome which can be prevented via the implementation of glucose control with intravenous insulin. One should hereby target glucose levels to be as close to normal as possible, without evoking unacceptable glucose fluctuations and hypoglycaemia. The classical non-diabetic endocrine emergencies comprise thyroid storm, myxoedema coma, acute adrenal crisis, and phaeochromocytoma. They all pose diagnostic and therapeutic challenges and require specific treatment such as endocrine replacement or blockage therapy. It is important to note that they are occasionally the presenting manifestation in undiagnosed patients. This chapter also briefly discusses amiodarone-induced thyroid dysfunction.

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