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What is Hyperinsulinism?

By Solomon Branch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hyperinsulinism is a medical condition in which too much insulin is in the bloodstream. This can occur in any animal or human being. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for the level of sugar, called glucose, in the body. If there is too much insulin in the body, the glucose level will drop, which is a condition known as hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can lead to dizziness, weakness and even coma and death.

Insulin is produced in the pancreas in the cells known as beta cells. These pancreatic beta cells respond to the level of glucose in the body. If the level of glucose rises, the pancreas cells produce insulin, which causes cells in the liver, muscle and fat tissue to take glucose from the blood and store it in the liver and muscles in another form known as glycogen. If for some reason this system is not functioning properly, hyperinsulinism, also known as hyperinsulimia, can occur.

There are several conditions that can cause hyperinsulinism. They are considered either organic or functional. Organic causes for hyperinsulinism can include a malfunction of the liver, a tumor in the pancreas, or a disorder of the endocrine system. A functional problem could be excessive exercise, pregnancy or lactation when breastfeeding. All of these can cause the glucose level to rise.

People who have diabetes and take insulin to treat their disorder can also suffer from hyperinsulinism. This can happen if they accidentally take too much insulin, don’t consume enough sugar or exercise too much. Rarely, someone will get misdiagnosed with diabetes and will be given insulin. In any case, it is crucial for one to get his or her blood sugar back to a normal level.

Although hyperinsulimia most often leads to hypoglycemia, it can also lead to a state where there is too much sugar in the blood, a condition known as hyperglycemia. This is caused by the cells in the body losing their sensitivity to insulin. Even though there is excessive insulin in the blood, the body does not respond appropriately, and if this is not corrected, the glucose levels continue to increase. If this continues, it can lead to a condition known as diabetes mellitus.

The treatments for hyperinsulism depend on the cause. If it is organic, such as a tumor in the pancreas — the most common organic cause in adults — surgery typically is performed. Other treatments for organic causes can include diet changes, weight loss and medication. If it is functional, usually the intake of sugar in some form is prescribed, often in the form of glucose tablets.

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