Insulin Resistance

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Robert Ferry Jr., MD

    Robert Ferry Jr., MD

    Robert Ferry Jr., MD, is a U.S. board-certified Pediatric Endocrinologist. After taking his baccalaureate degree from Yale College, receiving his doctoral degree and residency training in pediatrics at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), he completed fellowship training in pediatric endocrinology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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Insulin resistance facts

  • Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells of the body become resistant to the hormone insulin.
  • Insulin resistance may be part of the metabolic syndrome, and it has been associated with higher risk of developing heart disease.
  • Insulin resistance precedes the development of type 2 diabetes (T2D).
  • Insulin resistance is associated with other medical conditions, including fatty liver, arteriosclerosis, acanthosis nigricans, skin tags, and reproductive abnormalities in women.
  • Individuals are more likely to have insulin resistance if they have any of several associated medical conditions. They also are more likely to be insulin resistant if obese or of Latino, African-American, Native American, or Asian-American heritage.
  • While there are genetic risk factors, insulin resistance can be managed with diet, exercise, and proper medication.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. These cells are scattered throughout the pancreas in small clusters known as the islets of Langerhans. The insulin produced is released into the blood stream and travels throughout the body. Insulin is an essential hormone that has many actions within the body. Most actions of insulin are directed at metabolism (control) of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), lipids (fats), and proteins. Insulin also regulates the functions of the body's cells, including their growth. Insulin is critical for the body's use of glucose as energy.

Insulin resistance (IR) is a condition in which the body's cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. That is, the normal response to a given amount of insulin is reduced. As a result, higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its proper effects. So, the pancreas compensates by trying to produce more insulin. This resistance occurs in response to the body's own insulin (endogenous) or when insulin is administered by injection (exogenous).

With insulin resistance, the pancreas produces more and more insulin until the pancreas can no longer produce sufficient insulin for the body's demands, then blood sugar rises. Insulin resistance is a risk factor for development of diabetes and heart disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/25/2016

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