Insulin Resistance: Meaning, Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

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Insulin resistance is a major disorder in which one’s body does not react as it should to insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas that is necessary for random blood sugar regulation. It also enables cells to take up and consume glucose. Insulin resistance occurs when cells are ineffective in using insulin and can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance, also recognized as impaired insulin sensitivity, occurs when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver do not respond properly to insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas that is necessary for life and regulates blood glucose (sugar) levels. Insulin resistance can be short-term or chronic, and it can be treated in some cases.

For various reasons, your muscle, fat, and liver cells may react inappropriately to insulin, preventing them from efficiently absorbing or storing glucose from your blood. This is known as insulin resistance. As a result, your pancreas produces more insulin to counteract your rising blood glucose levels. This is known as hyperinsulinemia.

Your random blood sugar levels will remain healthy as long as your pancreas produces sufficient insulin to overcome your cells’ poor insulin response. If your cells become too resistant to insulin, it causes high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), which can progress to prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes over time.

Causes of Insulin Resistance

A variety of factors and conditions can cause insulin resistance. Excess body fat, particularly around the belly, and physical inactivity, according to scientists, are the two main contributors.

  • Obesity, particularly surplus fat in your stomach and surrounding your organs (visceral fat), is thought to be a primary cause of insulin resistance.
  • Physical activity increases insulin sensitivity and strengthens muscles to soak up blood glucose. Inactivity can have the opposite effect and cause insulin resistance.
  • It has been associated with a diet high in processed foods, carbohydrates, and saturated fats.
  • Certain medications, such as steroids, blood pressure medications, HIV treatments, and psychiatric medications, can cause insulin resistance.
  • Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and other hormonal disorders can influence how well your body uses insulin.
  • A variety of inherited genetic conditions can cause insulin resistance. Rabson-Mendenhall Syndrome, Donohue Syndrome

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

It is critical to team up with your doctor if you have prediabetes. They will regularly check your random blood sugar or hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) to determine if you have diabetes.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Severe thirst or hunger
  • Feeling hungry even after overeating.
  • Frequent urination
  • Tingling sensations in the hands or feet, fatigue.
  • Frequent infections
  • Blood tests present proof of high blood sugar levels.

Many people, often for years, have no signs of prediabetes. Prediabetes may be undetected until it progresses to Type 2 diabetes. Some prediabetes may present with symptoms:

  • Acanthosis nigricans darkened skin in your armpits or on the back and sides of your neck.
  • Tags on the skin (small skin growths).
  • Changes in the eyes can be caused by diabetic retinopathy.

If you are undergoing any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.

How is Insulin Resistance Diagnosed?

Insulin resistance is harder to diagnose because there is no routine testing. You will have no symptoms as long as your pancreas produces enough insulin to conquer the resistance.

As there is no standard test that can effectively diagnose insulin resistance, your doctor will consider several tests:

  • Glucose: Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) or glucose tolerance testing (GTT) can screen for, diagnose, and oversee prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes.
  • Glycated hemoglobin A1c (A1c): This testing shows your three-month average blood glucose levels.
  • Lipid Panel: A lipid panel is a collection of blood tests to assess particular lipids in your blood, such as total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.


Insulin resistance is caused by a variety of factors. While lifestyle changes like maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and losing weight can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance, not all reasons are reversible.

Mild insulin resistance can develop but never progress to prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. It can also be fixable or very controllable with lifestyle changes. It can be life-threatening or fatal for some individuals who have inherited issues that cause severe insulin resistance. Consult your doctor about the best ways to manage insulin resistance.

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