One of the roles of the pancreas is to secrete insulin. This organ lies in the upper abdomen, just in front of the spine. Specialized clusters of cells in the pancreas, called islets of Langerhans, secrete insulin and glucagon directly in to the blood stream. When one of these cells grows excessively, it will form a tumor that releases increased amounts of insulin and is no longer controlled by the normal pathways that regulate glucose levels. The Beta cells are the ones that produce insulin. These tumors are rare and are most commonly seen in people over 50, although they have been reported in all age groups. The tumors produce excess insulin which can lead to abnormally lowered glucose levels, or hypoglycemia. Some people with this disorder will suffer from multiple endocrine neoplasia, or tumors within many of the hormonal glands.
Causes of Insulinoma
The cause is a tumor developing in the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas. This tumor releases excessive insulin relative to the bodies need for that hormone. Insulinomas are usually the result of Beta cells tumors of the pancreas. Other causes of fasting hypoglycemia need to be excluded. These include, exogenous insulin, ingestion of sulfonylurea, liver failure and tumors that secrete insulin-like growth factors. The diagnosis of insulinoma depends of the demonstration of inadequate insulin suppression in the face of falling glucose levels.
Signs and Symptoms of Insulinoma
The symptoms produced by insulinoma's are they same as seen with any other form of hypoglycemia. When the glucose levels become very low anxiety and sweating occur. Nausea may develop. The heart rate increases. As the condition worsens, confusion may give way to slurred speech, unsteady movements and seizures. In the most severe case, loss of consciousness can occur due to insufficient glucose for the brain to function.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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