INTRODUCTION: In critical illness, the association of hypoglycemia, blood glucose (BG) variability and outcome are not well understood. We describe the incidence, clinical factors and outcomes associated with an early hypoglycemia and BG variability in critically ill patients. METHODS: Retrospective interrogation of prospectively collected data from the Australia New Zealand Intensive Care Society Adult Patient Database on 66184 adult admissions to 24 intensive care units (ICUs) from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2005. Primary exposure was hypoglycemia (BG <4.5 mmol/L) and BG variability (BG <4.5 and >or= 12.0 mmol/L) within 24 hours of admission. Primary outcome was all-cause mortality.