I am admitting a patient with diabetes mellitus (DM) due to chronic pancreatitis. Should I manage her diabetes any differently than my other patients with DM?

You may have to!  That’s because patients with DM due to pancreatic disease (also known as “pancreatogenic [Type 3C] diabetes”) tend to have more labile blood glucoses with particular predisposition to severe hypoglycemic episodes due to the impairment of glucagon production by pancreatic alpha-cells. 1-3

This observation dates back to a 1977 study where a high rate of hypoglycemic episodes was found among 59 patients with chronic pancreatitis (most with insulin-dependent DM), including 3 deaths and 2 suffering from severe brain damage following hypoglycemic coma. Interestingly, low basal glucagon levels were found in the latter patients, supporting impairment in glucagon synthesis. Of note, while hypoglycemia is a serious problem in these patients, they are not spared from complications of chronic hyperglycemia, including retinopathy and kidney disease.2

As for the blood glucose management in type 3C DM, since the principle endocrine defect is insulin deficiency, insulin therapy is preferred for most patients, particularly those who are acutely ill or are hospitalized. For otherwise more stable patients with mild hyperglycemia, metformin is an ideal agent as it enhances hepatic insulin sensitivity without the risk of hypoglycemia. As a bonus, metformin may also decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer in chronic pancreatitis, based on observational studies. 4

Also, don’t forget that concurrent pancreatic exocrine insufficiency is common in patients with type 3C DM and requires oral pancreatic enzyme requirement with meals.

Fascinating Pearl: Did you know that in patients with type 3C DM, hyperglycemia is mediated not only by decreased production of insulin, but also by decreased synthesis of pancreatic polypeptide, a peptide that mediates hepatic insulin sensitivity and glucose production? 5

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  1. Linde, J, Nilsson LH, Barany FR. Diabetes and hypoglycemia in chronic pancreatitis. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2012;12, 369–373. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/867001
  2. Andersen D. The practical importance of recognizing pancreatogenic or type 3c diabetes. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2012;28:326-328. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/dmrr.2285
  3. Cui YF, Andersen DK. Pancreatogenic diabetes: Special considerations for management. Pancreatology. 2011;11(3):279-294. doi:10.1159/000329188. https://jhu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/pancreatogenic-diabetes-special-considerations-for-management-4
  4. Evans J, Donnelly L, Emsley-Smith A. Metformin and reduced risk of cancer in diabetic patients. Br Med J. 2005;330:1304-1305. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7888859_Metformin_and_reduced_risk_of_cancer_in_diabetic_patients
  5. Rabiee A. Gafiatsatos P, Salas-Carnillo R. Pancreatic polypeptide administration enhances insulin sensitivity and reduces the insulin requirement of patents on insulin pump therapy. Diabetes Sci Technol 2011;5:1521-28.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262724/

Contributed by Hugo Torres, MD, MPH, Hospital Medicine Unit, Mass General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts

I am admitting a patient with diabetes mellitus (DM) due to chronic pancreatitis. Should I manage her diabetes any differently than my other patients with DM?