A  A  A   Print
Insulinoma

Insulinoma

Insulinomas are tumors in your pancreas that produce excess insulin. These tumors are rare and usually do not spread to other parts of your body. 

Symptoms

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your blood. Insulinomas can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels, because they make extra insulin. This can result in a number of symptoms. These include confusion, sweating, weakness, and a rapid heartbeat. If your blood sugar becomes too low, you can pass out and even go into a coma.

Who’s at risk

Few risk factors are associated with insulinomas, although women seem to be more frequently affected than men. Usually, you develop the condition between ages 40 and 60. Some genetic diseases can increase your chance of developing an insulinoma. Adults with multiple endocrine neoplasia, for example, have about a 10 percent chance of getting an insulinoma. This condition may also affect people with von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. This is an inherited disease that causes tumors and cysts throughout your body.

Diagnosis

Doctors often mistake insulinomas for other health problems. In fact, the average time between the onset of your symptoms and a diagnosis is about three years. If your doctor suspects the presence of an insulinoma, he or she may admit you to the hospital for several days to monitor your blood sugar and other substances in your blood. You will not be able to eat or drink anything except water during this time. If you have insulinomas, you will probably develop very low blood sugar levels within 48 hours of starting this test.

To confirm an insulinoma, your doctor may also use one or more imaging tests to determine how big your tumor is and where it's located. A CT (computed tomography) scan is a common procedure doctors use to locate insulinomas. However, doctors may obtain a better picture with endoscopic ultrasound. This is an outpatient procedure that uses a miniature ultrasound probe to create an image of your pancreas

Treatment

Most insulinomas are benign, and surgeons can usually remove them. Sometimes the surgeon performs a laparoscopy. He or she makes small incisions and uses specialized instruments, rather than performing a surgery that requires making long incisions along your abdomen. While you are waiting for your surgery, you may stay in the hospital and receive special intravenous solutions to keep you from becoming hypoglycemic. 

Complications

Some people who undergo surgery to remove an insulinoma may develop a pancreatic fistula. This is an abnormal leaking of fluid from your pancreas. Your doctor may give you medicine and additional fluids to help your fistula heal. Most fistulas close without the need for additional surgery.

Prevention

There are no known ways to prevent insulinomas.

When to call your doctor

If you have  insulinomas, you may experience symptoms related only to your hypoglycemia, like sweating, confusion, and double vision. You may notice these symptoms more when you’re hungry or after exercise. If you experience hypoglycemic symptoms several times in one week, consult your doctor promptly.

How to manage or live with the condition

Almost all insulinomas are benign. Removing the tumor cures the condition. Usually, patients do not experience a relapse or recurrence of the symptoms. You are unlikely to develop diabetes unless your surgeon removes a large part of your pancreas.

A small number of insulinomas are malignant. Your surgeon may not be able to entirely remove them. If this happens, you may need to take medications to stave off  hypoglycemia. You may also need chemotherapy to help control the size of your tumors.

 
Today's Interactive Tools

The third-party content provided in the Health Library of phoebeputney.com is for informational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. If you or your child has or suspect you may have a health problem, please consult your primary care physician. If you or your child may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or other emergency health care provider immediately in the United States or the appropriate health agency of your country. For more information regarding site usage, please visit: Privacy Information, Terms of Use or Disclaimer.

Follow us online:

© 2014 Phoebe Putney Health System  |  417 Third Avenue, Albany, Georgia 31701  |  Telephone 877.312.1167

Phoebe Putney Health System is a network of hospitals, family medicine clinics, rehab facilities, auxiliary services, and medical education training facilities. Founded in 1911,
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (the flagship hospital) is one of Georgia's largest comprehensive regional medical centers. From the beginning, Phoebe's mission and vision
has been to bring the finest medical talent and technology to the citizens of Southwest Georgia, and to serve all citizens of the community regardless of ability to pay.