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Stress hyperglycemia: an essential survival response!

Paul E Marik1* and Rinaldo Bellomo2

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, USA

2 Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre, Melbourne, Australia

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Critical Care 2013, 17:305  doi:10.1186/cc12514

Published: 6 March 2013


Stress hyperglycemia is common in critically ill patients and appears to be a marker of disease severity. Furthermore, both the admission as well as the mean glucose level during the hospital stay is strongly associated with patient outcomes. Clinicians, researchers and policy makers have assumed this association to be causal with the widespread adoption of protocols and programs for tight in-hospital glycemic control. However, a critical appraisal of the literature has demonstrated that attempts at tight glycemic control in both ICU and non-ICU patients do not improve health care outcomes. We suggest that hyperglycemia and insulin resistance in the setting of acute illness is an evolutionarily preserved adaptive responsive that increases the host's chances of survival. Furthermore, attempts to interfere with this exceedingly complex multi-system adaptive response may be harmful. This paper reviews the pathophysiology of stress hyperglycemia and insulin resistance and the protective role of stress hyperglycemia during acute illness.