What is insulinoma?

Insulinoma is a small tumor on your pancreas, which helps you digest food. Insulinomas aren't normally cancerous. They still can be dangerous. This is because insulinomas produce excess insulin. This can make you have extremely low blood sugar. Your pancreas is an organ located behind your stomach. It's normally responsible for stopping insulin when your blood sugar is too low. This condition can be life-threatening if not treated.

Causes of insulinoma

Doctors aren't sure what causes insulinomas. They often start growing without any warning or symptoms. The formation of an insulinoma is very rare. Most are smaller than 2 centimeters wide.

Risk factors for insulinoma

Women are more likely to develop this condition than men. People are normally diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 60. People with specific diseases that are passed down from their parents are at greater risk for this condition. Those diseases include multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 and tuberous sclerosis, among others.

Symptoms of insulinoma

Many people with insulinoma have no symptoms at all. Mild symptoms involve blurred or double vision and confusion. Other symptoms of insulinoma include:

  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Mood swings
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors and sweating
  • Hunger and sudden weight gain
  • Loss of consciousness or falling into a coma

Diagnosis of insulinoma

If you're experiencing symptoms, your doctor will first do a full physical exam. They'll also learn about your medical history to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may then have a technician take a sample of your blood. This lets them test both your blood sugar and insulin levels.

If your blood sugar is low but your insulin level is high, there's a chance that you might have an insulinoma. If this is the case, your doctor may want you to fast for 72 hours. During this fast, you don't eat or drink anything other than water. This creates very low blood sugar levels in your body. You may be admitted into the hospital so your doctor can monitor you better.

Doctors also use imaging tests like an MRI or a CT scan. These let the doctor see inside your body to identify the location of a tumor. All of these tests help your doctor create a treatment plan.

Treatments for insulinoma

The most common treatment for insulinoma is surgery. During the surgery, your doctor or a specialist removes the tumor from your pancreas. To prepare for this, your doctor may have to do more tests. They need to figure out exactly where the tumor is and how big it is. This helps them decide what kind of surgery you may need.

It's possible that the tumor might be cancerous. In that case, you may need a different type of treatment. Options range from removing a section of your pancreas to having a liver transplant. It depends greatly on the location and size of the tumor. If the cancer has spread elsewhere in your body, your doctor needs to treat that, too.

There may be just one small tumor on your pancreas that isn't cancerous. Then, your doctor may choose a surgery that involves only a very little cut. That can heal relatively quickly. If you have more than one tumor, your doctor might remove a section of your pancreas during surgery. The doctor will monitor your blood sugar levels closely while you recover.

Recovery from insulinoma

Once your doctor removes the insulinoma, the outlook is very good. There's a high chance you can return to your normal activities and recover completely. However, there's a chance that more tumors will form over time. It's important to have regular visits with your doctor.

Some people also develop diabetes as a result of this condition. That means your body might not be able to use insulin like it should. You may need to eat a diet that's low in sugar and carbohydrates. Limit alcohol. Talk with your doctor about ways to monitor your blood sugar and stay healthy.

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