Chronic Ailments Diabetes

Insulin Resistance: What You Need to Know

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You might have heard diabetes being referred to as insulin dependent or insulin resistant. However, the symptoms and suffering of the patients suffering from both variants remain the same. What is it that sets these two apart then? How can one differentiate one from the other?

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas for glucose absorption and metabolism. Insulin resistance is a condition where people are not able to use circulating insulin effectively as the cells of the body become resistant to insulin. This leads to difficulty in absorbing glucose and accumulation of sugar in the blood. However, many people who have insulin resistance have high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be labeled as diabetes. This condition is known as prediabetes stage.

It is not known exactly why one develops it; however, being overweight or obese are high-risk factors for developing this condition. Other factors which may also cause insulin resistance are genetic and lifestyle factors.


Insulin resistance initially does not trigger any symptoms. You may be insulin resistant and may not even realize it at all. Sometimes a simple blood glucose test too cannot tell you if you are insulin resistant or not.

Earliest signs and symptoms of insulin are weight gain, particularly around the waistline, which is termed central obesity. A person typically has a fat waistline, a big belly, fat and thick neck, a double chin, and a fatty hump at the back of the neck but relatively thin arms and legs.

Another symptom which people with insulin resistance have is ‘acanthosis nigricans’. This condition causes dark, thick skin patches in the skin folds like groin area, armpits, and neck. This condition has no cure. Treating the underlying cause, might lighten the color and cause the natural skin color to reappear, but chances are rare

Other symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Hunger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
  • Insulin resistance increases your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes in near future. Classical diabetic symptoms include:
  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Hungry even after eating food.
  • Increased urination more so in the night.
  • Tingling numbness in the hands or feet.
  • Unusual exhaustion

The Causes

The exact cause for insulin resistance is not clearly known; however primary cause has been linked to obesity and being overweight. Excess of fat accumulation around the belly causes the fat cells to be deprived of oxygen which ultimately kills them. An inflammatory reaction is set which starts the insulin resistance in the body.

Is It Reversible?

Losing weight can help reduce the extent of insulin resistance and thereby improve glucose metabolism in the body. This includes a radical shift in dietary and lifestyle habits.  Diagnosis of insulin resistance is only a warning signal. It can very often be reversed by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.


  1. The best test to conclude would be HbA1C which tells us about the average blood sugar levels over a period of three months.
  • A1C under 5.7 % is considered normal
  • A1C between 5.7%and 6.4% is a prediabetic stage.
  • A1C above 6.5% is diagnostic for diabetes.
  1. A fasting blood sugar test would also be advised for checking actual blood sugar levels.
  2. A fasting blood sugar test and a series of blood glucose tests after a glucose drink (the glucose tolerance test) along with actual quantification of corresponding blood insulin levels is the most accurate test to confirm insulin resistance at an early stage. A fasting serum insulin level greater than 25mIU/L (or 174pmol/L) is considered as insulin resistance. The same levels apply three hours after the last meal/ glucose drink.


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