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Variability of insulin sensitivity during the first 4 days of critical illness: implications for tight glycemic control

Christopher G Pretty1, Aaron J Le Compte1, J Geoffrey Chase1*, Geoffrey M Shaw2, Jean-Charles Preiser3, Sophie Penning4 and Thomas Desaive4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mechanical Eng, Centre for Bio-Engineering, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8054, New Zealand

2 Department of Intensive Care, Christchurch Hospital, Christchurch, 8054, New Zealand

3 Department of Intensive Care, CUB Hospital Erasme, Free University of Brussels, Route de Lennik 808, Brussels, 1070, Belgium

4 Cardiovascular Research University of Liege, Liege, Belgium

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Annals of Intensive Care 2012, 2:17  doi:10.1186/2110-5820-2-17

Published: 15 June 2012



Effective tight glycemic control (TGC) can improve outcomes in critical care patients, but it is difficult to achieve consistently. Insulin sensitivity defines the metabolic balance between insulin concentration and insulin-mediated glucose disposal. Hence, variability of insulin sensitivity can cause variable glycemia. This study quantifies and compares the daily evolution of insulin sensitivity level and variability for critical care patients receiving TGC.


This is a retrospective analysis of data from the SPRINT TGC study involving patients admitted to a mixed medical-surgical ICU between August 2005 and May 2007. Only patients who commenced TGC within 12 hours of ICU admission and spent at least 24 hours on the SPRINT protocol were included (N = 164). Model-based insulin sensitivity (SI) was identified each hour. Absolute level and hour-to-hour percent changes in SI were assessed on cohort and per-patient bases. Levels and variability of SI were compared over time on 24-hour and 6-hour timescales for the first 4 days of ICU stay.


Cohort and per-patient median SI levels increased by 34% and 33% (p < 0.001) between days 1 and 2 of ICU stay. Concomitantly, cohort and per-patient SI variability decreased by 32% and 36% (p < 0.001). For 72% of the cohort, median SI on day 2 was higher than on day 1. The day 1–2 results are the only clear, statistically significant trends across both analyses. Analysis of the first 24 hours using 6-hour blocks of SI data showed that most of the improvement in insulin sensitivity level and variability seen between days 1 and 2 occurred during the first 12–18 hours of day 1.


Critically ill patients have significantly lower and more variable insulin sensitivity on day 1 than later in their ICU stay and particularly during the first 12 hours. This rapid improvement is likely due to the decline of counter-regulatory hormones as the acute phase of critical illness progresses. Clinically, these results suggest that while using TGC protocols with patients during their first few days of ICU stay, extra care should be afforded. Increased measurement frequency, higher target glycemic bands, conservative insulin dosing, and modulation of carbohydrate nutrition should be considered to minimize safely the outcome glycemic variability and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia.

Critical care; Hyperglycemia; Insulin resistance; Mathematical model; Algorithms