What Is Insulin Resistance? Discover the Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Insulin Resistance!

by Cindy

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is a complex health problem that is the result of a combination of many different abnormally functioning metabolic factors within the body.  In this syndrome, more insulin is required by the body than is expected to lower blood sugar levels. 

In other words, the insulin that is produced by the body becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar levels.  This results in a rise in glucose levels and can progress to type 2 diabetes.

This incidence of insulin resistance is continuing to rise within the United States.  This should come as no surprise to those that understand that the cases of type 2 diabetes are also on the rise. As this syndrome becomes more common, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms and management of this disorder.

What Causes Insulin Resistance?

There are many different reasons why a patient may develop insulin resistance and many are not fully understood.  Changes to the cells or to insulin itself can trigger insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance can develop in the following ways:

  • Abnormal Insulin:  Genetic mutations that cause changes in the structure of the insulin molecule can be responsible for the development of insulin resistance.
  • Autoimmune Disorders:  Antibodies may attack insulin to create a state of insulin resistance.
  • Fewer or Abnormal Insulin Receptors:  These tiny areas on the surface of the cell wall may have abnormalities in their structure or too few may be present to allow enough insulin to be activated.

Who is at Risk for Insulin Resistance?

Patients with the following health conditions are the highest risk for developing insulin resistance:

  • Obesity: Insulin resistance is most commonly associated with obesity and in this scenario, the cells within the body lack receptors that are needed to recognize and use insulin effectively.
  • Advancing Age:  As the body ages, it may not process sugars as efficiently due to the development of insulin resistance.
  • Chronic Health Problems: Patients with PCOS, Cushings Syndrome, chronic stress and acromegaly are at risk for insulin resistance.  There are also numerous obscure health conditions that can associated with this condition.
  • Medications:  Certain medications such as steroids, cyclosporin, niacin and HIV medications can be associated with insulin resistance.

What are the Symptoms of Insulin Resistance?

The symptoms of insulin resistance can vary significantly from patient to patient.  Some patients will present with overt symptoms of diabetes such as increased thirst, increase hunger and frequent urination.  Your physician may suspect that you could have insulin resistance if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Obesity:  This is the most common cause of insulin resistance!
  • Metabolic Syndrome:  These patients will present with the traditional symptoms of metabolic syndrome that include central obesity, abnormal blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and insulin resistance.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):  This condition occurs in women and is characterized by multiple ovarian cysts, infertility, abnormal hair growth and insulin resistance.
  • Abnormal Blood Glucose Testing

How To Test For Insulin Resistance

If your physician suspects that you have insulin resistance, he may order special tests to further evaluate your health.  These tests may include:

  • Fasting Blood Sugar Level
  • Hemoglobin A1c Blood Test
  • Insulin Resistance and Fasting Insulin Level
  • Fasting Cholesterol Panel
  • Special Testing To Assess Your Cardiovascular Health

Insulin Resistance Treatment

The treatment of insulin resistance will vary depending on the underlying cause.  The goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of complications from abnormal glucose levels, high cholesterol, blood clotting and cardiovascular problems. 

Medications, such as Metformin, may be prescribed to help the body use its own insulin more effectively.  In addition, weight loss and exercise are important elements of the treatment of this dangerous syndrome. Patients with suspected insulin resistance should be referred to an endocrinologist for further evaluation.

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