Insulin sensitivity is a term used to describe people who require relatively normal or low levels of insulin to process glucose. People with insulin resistance, on the other hand, need a lot of insulin to process glucose, and this leads to health problems. Several diagnostic tests can be used to determine how sensitive someone is to insulin, and these tests may be ordered if a medical professional suspects that a patient is having difficulty with glucose metabolism.
The pancreas is responsible for secreting insulin. Insulin triggers tissues in the body to absorb glucose from the blood, lowering blood sugar levels so that they will remain relatively stable. These tissues can store glucose in the form of glycogen. In someone with insulin sensitivity, the insulin works as it should; when insulin-sensitive tissues like the liver and the muscles are exposed to the hormone, they respond by absorbing glucose.
In someone with insulin resistance, large amounts of insulin are needed to achieve the same effect. One simple way to determine sensitivity or lack thereof is to take a blood test to measure insulin levels in the blood. If they are unusually high, it indicates that the pancreas are overproducing insulin because the body is having trouble using the hormone. Over time, this can lead to damage to the pancreas, and it is a cause for concern.
There are ways to adjust how the body reacts to insulin, in some cases. Diet and exercise modifications can sometimes encourage the body to use it more efficiently, reducing the demand for the hormone and allowing the pancreas to return to more normal production levels. These measures are often used as a first line of treatment when a patient appears to be developing insulin resistance, to see if the growing problem can be controlled before resorting to more aggressive measures.
For people with diabetes who need to take insulin to manage their condition, insulin sensitivity is very important. A healthcare professional can estimate how much insulin the patient should need, and if the patient exceeds this amount, it suggests that he or she has insulin resistance. Changes in the need for insulin may be an indicator that the patient is experiencing complications, and the person should discuss the situation with a medical professional. Diagnostic tests may be recommended to determine why the patient's demand for insulin has changed, so that the healthcare provider and patient can develop a new approach to diabetes management.