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Glucose Intolerance Treatment & Management

  • Author: Samuel T Olatunbosun, MD, FACP, FACE; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 14, 2015

Approach Considerations

Routine evaluation in an ambulatory setting is feasible for most patients. Patients with acute decompensation due to glucose intolerance or any related disorders may require inpatient care.[39] A major goal in the management of glucose intolerance is glycemic control.

Of note is the novel treatment with DPP-4–resistant GLP-1 receptor agonists, such as exenatide and liraglutide, which are incretin mimetics, as well as with the DPP-4 inhibitors sitagliptin and vildagliptin.[40, 41, 42] Exenatide may be effective in preventing steroid-induced glucose intolerance through suppression.[43]

Both strategies have been successful in clinical studies. Liraglutide was approved by the FDA in January 2010 for monotherapy, as a second-line treatment and in combination with oral agents. The mechanisms of action of incretin mimetics include stimulation of insulin secretion in response to nutrient intake, inhibition of glucagon secretion, delay of gastric emptying, and induction of early satiety. Other benefits include preservation of beta cell mass and improvement of secretory function. The advantages of the DPP-IV inhibitors include oral availability, good tolerability, and weight neutrality.

Amylin has several glucoregulatory effects that complement those of insulin in postprandial glucose regulation; thus, mealtime amylin administration may be adjunctive to mealtime insulin replacement and may facilitate improvement of postprandial and overall glycemic control in patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Naturally occurring human amylin is unsuitable for clinical use because of several physicochemical properties, however; pramlintide acetate contains an amylin analogue without those limitations.[44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49]

All patients with type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent. Treatment of severe hyperglycemia during acute decompensation in a patient with type 2 diabetes may reverse the state of glucose toxicity, further improving secretory function of beta cells in the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes can be treated effectively with oral hypoglycemic drugs, with or without the addition of insulin. The natural history of type 2 diabetes is that of progressive beta-cell deterioration, secondary failure of oral agents, and the subsequent need for insulin therapy.

Gestational diabetes mellitus is treated with insulin and/or with lifestyle change. Oral agents are contraindicated in pregnancy.

With regard to the management of impaired glucose tolerance, the current approach is aggressive lifestyle modification. The results of the Diabetes Prevention Program showed that metformin therapy and intensive lifestyle intervention reduced the risk of developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes by 31% and 58% respectively, compared with placebo, in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance.[50] The Study to Prevent Non-Insulin–Dependent Diabetes Mellitus Trial demonstrated a 25% relative risk reduction in the development of diabetes, and an associated reduction in hypertension (34%) and cardiovascular events (49%).[51]

Orlistat may be beneficial in the context of obesity.[52]

For more information, see Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 and Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2.


Lifestyle Modification

Intensive lifestyle modification has been shown to effectively delay or prevent diabetes in a cost-effective manner.[53, 52, 54] Nonpharmacologic therapy and lifestyle modification include the following:

  • Diet 
  • Exercise
  • Counseling related to smoking cessation and alcohol intake
  • Reversing drug-related, iatrogenic causation of glucose intolerance
  • Substituting or adding agents that do not adversely affect glucose tolerance; reducing dosage of offending drugs

Pharmacologic Therapy

Pharmacologic therapy may be required in the following situations:[55]

  • Fasting glucose more than 126 mg/dL, postprandial glucose more than 160 mg/dL, or glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) more than 7%
  • Hyperglycemia (a significant risk factor in development of vascular complications)

In addition to lifestyle counseling, metformin therapy for prevention of type 2 diabetes may be considered in those with IGT, IFG, or HBA1C 5.7–6.4%, especially for those with BMI greater than 35 kg/m2, age younger than 60 years, and in women with prior GDM, according to the ADA.[1]


Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery should be considered in a patient with type 2 diabetes who has a BMI of more than 35 kg/m2, especially if glycemic control with lifestyle and pharmacotherapy is difficult.[1]  Surgically induced weight loss may result in improvements in insulin sensitivity and beta cell function, as well as changes in gut hormones.[56, 57] Better diabetic control or complete resolution of the disease (64-93%) is the end result.

A bariatric procedure is not currently recommended in the management of IGT or IFG; however, glucose intolerance resolved in 99-100% of cases of patients who underwent bariatric surgery for a comorbid state that required such an intervention (eg, class 3 obesity).


Nutritional Therapy

Medical nutritional therapy should be guided by the American Dietetic Association recommendations and individualized by weight and height, level of physical activity, and requirements for calories and nutrients.[58]


Physical Activity

A high level of physical activity is desirable, as appropriate to the patient's ability and general health. Most patients benefit from carefully planned exercise programs tailored to individual needs.


Long-term Monitoring

Long-term monitoring of affected patients includes ensuring medication compliance, identifying adverse effects, blood glucose and HbA1c monitoring, dietary consultations and measures, and exercise management.


Long-Term Monitoring

Long-term support and medical monitoring are still important after a bariatric procedure. Various complications, including postprandial hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia, have been reported following gastric bypass surgery.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Samuel T Olatunbosun, MD, FACP, FACE Endocrinology Service, SAMMC/59th Medical Wing and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, F Edward Hebert School of Medicine

Samuel T Olatunbosun, MD, FACP, FACE is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Diabetes Association, Endocrine Society, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

George T Griffing, MD Professor Emeritus of Medicine, St Louis University School of Medicine

George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, MBBS, MSc, FRCP Professor of Medicine, Program Director, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, MBBS, MSc, FRCP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Royal College of Physicians, and The Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Eli Lilly None Speaking and teaching; GlaxoSmithKline None Speaking and teaching; Merck None Speaking and teaching

David S Schade, MD Chief, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of New Mexico School of Medicine and Health Sciences Center

David S Schade, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Endocrine Society, New Mexico Medical Society, New York Academy of Sciences, and Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Don S Schalch, MD Professor Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics

Don S Schalch, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Central Society for Clinical Research, and Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Etiologic types and stages of the major disorders of glucose tolerance.
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