Perioperative management of diabetes: Translating evidence into practice

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Perioperative glycemic control can reduce morbidity, particularly the incidence of infectious complications, in surgical patients, even in those without diagnosed diabetes. Optimal management of glycemia in the perioperative period involves applying principles of physiologic insulin replacement. Postoperatively, the transition from IV to subcutaneous insulin can be achieved through the use of basal insulin for coverage of fasting insulin needs, regardless of the patient’s feeding status, and the use of rapid-acting insulin to cover hyperglycemia and nutritional needs. Management of hospitalized patients exclusively with supplemental-scale regular insulin should be abandoned.


Question from the audience: As an attending physician in a preoperative clinic I’m never sure what to do with NPH insulin the morning of surgery. What guidance can you give?

Dr. Meneghini: NPH is a peaking basal insulin, and the peak can induce hypoglycemia in a patient who is NPO. If we have the opportunity, we try to switch patients previously receiving insulin therapy to a long-acting basal insulin analog, which has a much flatter action profile and is safer in the fasting state. If there is no opportunity for switching, we instruct the patient to take two-thirds of his or her usual morning dose of insulin and we initiate a D5 drip when the patient arrives at the hospital.

Question from the audience: How do you handle perioperative insulin in patients on insulin pumps?

Dr. Meneghini: The pumps provide a subcutaneous basal insulin infusion, which should, if set correctly, maintain stable blood glucose levels when the patient is NPO. Supplemental doses of insulin to correct hyperglycemia can be delivered via the usual subcutaneous practice with a syringe or insulin pen. If you are uncomfortable with pump function, or if the pump insertion site interferes with the surgery site, simply replace the 24-hour basal amount delivered via pump with an injection of glargine or detemir divided into twice-daily injections. Correct hyperglycemia with supplemental-scale insulin as per usual protocol.

Question from the audience: The manufacturer of insulin glargine makes no recommendations for its use the night before or morning of surgery. What do you recommend?

Dr. Meneghini: It depends on whether the glargine is dosed appropriately. Most patients with type 2 diabetes require 0.4 to 0.6 U/kg/day of a long-acting insulin. If they’re on much more, they may be overdosed, and I would cut the basal dose by about half. Otherwise, 75% to 100% of the usual basal amount is appropriate. In type 1 diabetes, the usual replacement dose of basal insulin is 0.2 to 0.3 U/kg/day. If a patient is in this range, the basal insulin can be continued. Patients who experience hypoglycemia, or a substantial fall in blood glucose if meals are skipped or delayed, may be getting too much basal insulin and might benefit from a dose reduction when placed on NPO status.

Question from the audience: Metformin has a black-box warning advising that it be stopped at least 48 hours before surgery, but patients often come to surgery having taken metformin within the prior 12 to 24 hours. How should we manage such patients coming for elective surgery?

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