What is Hyperinsulinemia?

Mary McMahon

Hyperinsulinemia is an unusually high level of the hormone insulin in the blood. While many people associate insulin with diabetes, high levels of insulin in the blood as seen in this condition are not necessarily linked with diabetes. There are a number of reasons for people to develop hyperinsulinemia and in many cases, a cause is never determined. Treatment options vary, depending on why the patient has high insulin levels and any other conditions that the patient may have.

Those with hyperinsulinemia may benefit from a low-glycemic diet, which favors whole grains over white flour products.
Those with hyperinsulinemia may benefit from a low-glycemic diet, which favors whole grains over white flour products.

In people with hyperinsulinemia, symptoms such as high blood pressure, thirst, vision problems, headache, fatigue, muscle weakness, thirst, and altered level of consciousness can be observed. Blood tests will reveal high levels of insulin circulating in the blood. A doctor may recommend additional diagnostic tests to learn about changes in insulin levels that may occur in response to meals or other factors. Additional screening can provide other information that might be important when exploring the cause of the hyperinsulinemia.

Hyperinsulinemia could indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or another serious underlying health problem.
Hyperinsulinemia could indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or another serious underlying health problem.

People with hyperinsulinemia can develop diabetes. Excess insulin is also linked with insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrom (PCOS), coronary artery disease, and some other health issues. A full physical exam and patient history can provide important background information that will help a doctor learn more about the high insulin levels and determine any potential areas of concern.

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The first line of attack is to see if insulin levels can be adjusted with diet and exercise. A dietician may work with the patient to develop a diet the patient can follow in order to lower insulin levels. If this measure does not work, medications may be considered to force insulin levels lower. Patients with a history of hyperinsulinemia also need to be monitored for the early signs of diabetes because this condition can lead to diabetes, and diabetes is easier to treat when it is caught as early as possible.

Sometimes, hyperinsulinemia is the warning sign of an underlying medical problem like PCOS. It can also be another piece of the diagnostic puzzle for a problem a patient has been experiencing for an extended period of time, ruling out some medical conditions and making others more likely possibilities. When hyperinsulinemia is identified, people may find it helpful to talk with family members to find out if there is any family history of conditions linked to high insulin levels in the blood. This may help a doctor identify a condition to screen for or consider as a possible diagnosis.

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