Hyperinsulinemia describes an increased level of insulin in the blood. The condition is associated with glucose intolerance, obesity, hypertension and dyslipidemia, factors that are collectively referred to as the metabolic syndrome.
Hyperinsulinemia is distinct from both diabetes or hyperglycemia, but it occurs as a result of early stage diabetes, which may progress to diabetes if it is not treated properly.
Hyperinsulinemia leads to several conditions and these are described below.
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
- Diabetes or uncontrolled blood sugar that fluctuates between a low and high level
- Increased risk of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Increased production of very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), referred to as hypertriglyceridemia.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular or heart disease
- Coronary artery disease – the high insulin level damages the endothelial cells that line the coronary arteries.
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Underactive thyroid gland
- Weight gain and lethargy
Insulin resistance is the primary cause of hyperinsulinemia. When a person has insulin resistance, the pancreas tries to compensate by producing more insulin. This may lead to type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate the blood sugar level adequately. In rare cases, a pancreatic tumor can cause hyperinsulinemia. A condition called nesidioblastosis, where there is an excess of the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas can also lead to hyperinsulinemia.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc