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Brittle diabetes is one of those funny terms that I have heard used quite frequently throughout the years but for alot of people it is not fully understood. It is not an official classification of diabetes and is a very outdated term.

“Brittle” describes a severe form of diabetes. It is also known as Labile Diabetes. It’s characterized by an up and down of blood sugar levels. These swings in glucose can affect quality of life and even lead to hospitalization. Advances in diabetes management have made this condition rare, but brittle diabetes is still a concern among diabetics. It’s also a sign that your blood sugar is poorly managed. The best way to prevent brittle diabetes is to follow a health plan set forth by your doctor.

Brittle diabetes is almost exclusive to type 1 diabetes. This doesn’t mean all type 1 diabetics will develop this health complication, and people with type 2 diabetes aren’t immune. Some doctors classify it as a complication of diabetes, while others consider it a subtype of type 1 diabetes.

Brittle diabetes causes your blood sugar to spike and drop at rapid rates. While type 1 diabetes is characterized by low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), your body may have a reaction to insulin and cause glucose spikes. This results in high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The fluctuation in glucose can be rapid and unpredictable, causing extreme discomfort.


Brittle diabetes has a number of potential causes.

It can be caused by absorption problems in the intestines. This includes delayed stomach emptying, drug interactions, insulin absorption issues and malfunctioning hormones.

Severely low blood sugar levels may also create thyroid and adrenal gland problems.

Gastroperesis, delayed stomach emptying, can affect the rate at which food, glucose and insulin is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Brittle diabetes is often associated with psychological issues such as stress and depression.


Hypo- and hyperglycemic symptoms are common signs of brittle diabetes due to fluctuations in blood sugar. Extremely low blood sugar can cause:

  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • irritability
  • extreme hunger
  • trembling hands
  • double vision
  • severe headaches
  • sleeping difficulties

Symptoms of high blood glucose in brittle diabetes can include:

  • weakness
  • increased thirst and subsequent urination
  • vision changes
  • dry skin

People with diabetes experience these symptoms when blood sugar levels are occasionally off. The difference is that brittle diabetes creates frequent changes in these symptoms without warning.


Diabetes Insight is Ireland’s only private independent advisory service and education centre dedicated and specializing solely in Diabetes Self Management Education (DSME). Its aim is to make a difference in the lives of those living daily with diabetes by providing quality education, advice, support and resources in a clear, simple, practical easy to understand manner without fear of judgement or blame. We respect and see each person with diabetes as an individual, with individual needs, so all our services are tailored to your specific needs. 

All our services are designed and facilitated by Helena Farrell RGN, MSc Diabetes who has over 15 years experience working and studying in diabetes management. These services are unique, from cookery courses to one day courses and are not to be found in any other health service or provider within the Republic of Ireland. 

Contact us today to see how we can help you and make a difference to you living with diabetes by ringing Helena on (086) 1739287 &/or email With services starting from as little as 20 euros, there is something to cater for every budget and need