Jennifer King

PhD candidate

The experience and impact of severe hypoglycaemia for adults with Type 1 diabetes and their significant other

Supervisors: Kate White and Murray Fisher

Severe hypoglycaemia (SH) has an extensive and varied impact on the lives of people with type 1 diabetes (T1D). It is characterised by a low plasma glucose concentration and, by definition, requires the assistance of another person(1), usually a significant other. This person may be required to either give oral carbohydrates to someone who may be non-compliant or even aggressive, or to administer an intramuscular injection of glucagon to an unconscious or semiconscious person(2). Not only does this acute complication have significant physiological effects, there can be numerous psychosocial consequences for both the person with T1D and their significant other.

There have been many quantitative studies that investigate aspects of SH such as incidence, risk factors, cognitive function, and quality of life (3,5). However, there is a dearth of qualitative research concerned with understanding the experience of SH. What is it like to experience episodes of SH? How does this experience impact on a person’s life and the people around them? What does it mean for them?

This study explores these questions using a narrative inquiry approach. Nine people with T1D and seven significant others participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews focusing on three key areas: their experiences of SH; the personal impact on the individual; the impact on their relationship with others. Audio taped interviews were transcribed and analysed.

Narrative inquiry enables the researcher to interpret the meaning and significance of these SH experiences by developing an understanding of the participants’ perspective expressed through their stories. Participants’ stories were constructed into narratives and analysis was guided by Polkinghorne’s (6) approach to narrative analysis.


Themes arising from this research are currently being explored as a means of gaining a deeper understanding of the experience of severe hypoglycaemia and the difficulties surrounding these episodes. This study will provide valuable information for health professions to develop management strategies to meet the needs of people experiencing these episodes.