Tight glycaemic control is an important issue in the management of intensive care unit (ICU) patients. The glycaemic goals described by Van Den Berghe and colleagues in their landmark study of intensive insulin therapy appear difficult to achieve in a real life ICU setting. Most clinicians and nurses are concerned about a potentially increased frequency of severe hypoglycaemic episodes with more stringent glycaemic control. One of the steps we took before we implemented a glucose regulation protocol was to review published trials employing insulin/glucose algorithms in critically ill patients.
We conducted a search of the PubMed, Embase and Cochrane databases using the following terms: 'glucose', 'insulin', 'protocol', 'algorithm', 'nomogram', 'scheme', 'critically ill' and 'intensive care'. Our search was limited to clinical trials conducted in humans. The aim of the papers selected was required to be glycaemic control in critically ill patients; the blood glucose target was required to be 10 mmol/l or under (or use of a protocol that resulted in a mean blood glucose = 10 mmol/l). The studies were categorized according to patient type, desired range of blood glucose values, method of insulin administration, frequency of blood glucose control, time taken to achieve the desired range for glucose, proportion of patients with glucose in the desired range, mean blood glucose and frequency of hypoglycaemic episodes.
A total of twenty-four reports satisfied our inclusion criteria. Most recent studies (nine) were conducted in an ICU; nine others were conducted in a perioperative setting and six were conducted in patients with acute myocardial infarction or stroke. Studies conducted before 2001 did not include normoglycaemia among their aims, which changed after publication of the study by Van Den Berghe and coworkers in 2001; glycaemic goals became tighter, with a target range between 4 and 8 mmol/l in most studies.
Studies using a dynamic scale protocol combining a tight glucose target and the last two blood glucose values to determine the insulin infusion rate yielded the best results in terms of glycaemic control and reported low frequencies of hypoglycaemic episodes.