Insulin is a hormone, which is produced and released by the pancreas; it plays a very important role in the body as it is responsible for controlling blood glucose levels and levels of fats and carbohydrates stored in the body. Levels of insulin and glucose must be balanced; in people with diabetes, the body cannot regulate glucose levels and treatment is needed to stabilise blood glucose concentrations. Insulin is vital because it allows cells to take in glucose, which is then used for energy; any remaining glucose is then stored by the body as an energy source; if the cells cannot take in the glucose, it remains in the blood and this can cause blood glucose levels to rise to dangerous levels.

When is the test used?

The insulin test may be carried out to determine the cause of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels); it may also be used to diagnose insulomas (tumours which produce insulin).

The test is usually ordered when a patient has symptoms of hypoglycaemia, including confusion, excessive sweating, weakness, palpitations, seizures and blurred vision.

The test may also be ordered when a patient has had an insuloma removed; this will determine if the tumour has been successfully removed.

How is the test done?

The test is performed by taking a sample of blood from a vein in the arm; the blood is taken using a needle, which is inserted into the vein. The blood is then drawn out and collected in a syringe. Once the doctor or nurse has a sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled with the patient’s name and sent off to the laboratory for evaluation.

What do the test results show?

The test results will be evaluated in context with the patient’s medical history and general health. If fasting insulin and glucose levels are normal, this indicates that the body is producing insulin effectively.

If levels of insulin are elevated, this may indicate a number of health conditions, including Cushing’s syndrome, fructose or galactose intolerance, obesity or insulin resistance (this is a symptom of early type 2 diabetes); levels may also increase if a patient is taking certain types of medication, including corticosteroids and oral contraceptives.

If levels of insulin are lower than normal, this may indicate diabetes or hypopituitarism (underactive thyroid gland).

Specific Blood Tests

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