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Signs & Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

By Jeanne Grunert ; Updated July 27, 2017

Insulin resistance is the name given to a condition in which the body's liver, fat and muscle cells are no longer responsive to the hormone insulin. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. As foods are digested, glucose or sugars are sent through the blood. Glucose must be taken up by every cell in the body to provide energy for life. The body's blood glucose levels, however, must be kept within a certain range. Too much blood glucose, and diabetes results. Too little, and hypoglycemia occurs. Insulin resistance is often one of a cluster of symptoms indicating that the body's mechanisms for responding to blood glucose and insulin is starting to breakdown. Sometimes there are outward signs and symptoms, while at other times, people may have insulin resistance and not know it. Only a doctor can properly diagnose insulin resistance and related disorders.


Insulin resistance is one of several symptoms that when viewed together are called Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome includes insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure and reduced tolerance to high carbohydrate meals. Sometimes patients' blood work reveals high triglyceride levels too. Taken together, these factors alert doctors that patients may be heading toward Type 2 or Adult Onset Diabetes, a serious disease.


Signs and symptoms of insulin resistance may be so mild they pass unnoticed by the patient. They may include drowsiness after meals, especially after meals containing 30 percent or more carbohydrates. Patients may feel intense mood swings or ravenous hunger after eating sugary snacks or high carbohydrate meals. Other symptoms can include high triglycerides and cholesterol. Most people who are insulin resistant are obese or overweight and carry their fat in the abdominal area. Dark patches of skin on the neck and armpit area are another symptom of insulin resistance.


Insulin resistance is not diabetes, but it is a warning sign that the body's ability to handle blood glucose and respond to insulin isn't working properly. Sometimes the diagnosis of insulin resistance and diabetes is made at the same time, but this doesn't mean they are the same thing. A person may be insulin resistant for a long time without any symptoms before a diagnosis is made. Similarly, diabetes may have few symptoms but a diagnosis can be made after laboratory tests and physical examination.


The signs and symptoms of insulin resistance may mimic the signs and symptoms of other serious diseases. Diabetes, heart conditions, and many other disorders also causes fatigue, mood swings, dark patches of skin and hunger pangs. Only a physician can diagnose insulin resistance. Patience suspecting insulin resistance should make an appointment with their physician for a complete physical.


The signs and symptoms of insulin resistance can be mitigated through lifestyle modification. While not everyone will respond to this treatment option, the majority of people do correct their insulin resistance. Eating a low fat diet, getting moderate exercise, and losing weight are methods to improve the symptoms of insulin resistance.

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