An insulinoma is a tumor of the pancreas that results in excessive insulin production. Although the vast majority of these tumors (more than 90%) are non-cancerous, the overproduction of insulin can lead to low blood sugar and a host of related problems in the body. Below, we take a closer look at why this condition develops, and how it is treated.
Causes and Symptoms of Insulinoma
Although medical science is only getting better, we don’t have a clear understanding of what causes an insulinoma to develop. They typically develop without warning.
The clearest sign that you are dealing with an insulinoma is to watch for the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms associated with the development of an insulinoma include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Mood swings
- Sudden weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Constant tiredness
In more serious cases, patients can experience a rapid heartbeat, convulsions, seizures or even loss of consciousness. If you are experiencing a combination of the above symptoms or any of the more serious symptoms, consider setting up an appointment with an endocrine system specialist.
Diagnosing and Treating Insulinomas
Left untreated, insulinomas result in low blood sugar levels in the body which can lead to a number of health issues, but that low blood sugar also makes it easier for doctors to diagnose the condition. If, after conducting a physical exam and listening to your symptoms, your doctor believes you may be suffering from an insulinoma, they’ll conduct a biochemical analysis of your blood. If the blood test shows suspicious numbers, the presence of an insulinoma will be confirmed with a CT scan, MRI or an endoscopic ultrasound.
Unlike other health conditions where doctors will opt for conservative care before proceeding with an operation, if you’ve been diagnosed with an insulinoma, odds are your doctor is going to suggest an operation. That’s because not only is surgery highly successful at removing the tumor, but more than 90 percent of patients who undergo a removal operation do not need any further surgery once the tumor is removed.
The doctor begins the laparoscopic procedure by creating a couple small openings in the abdomen. They will then insert a small camera attached to a device in order to view the pancreas. Most insulinomas grow on the outside of the pancreas, meaning they can be removed without damaging the organ itself. Once in position, the doctor will cut away the insulinoma, careful to remove it entirely, as insulinomas rarely return if the entire tumor is removed during the first surgery.
On the off chance your pancreas needs to be removed, your surgeon will perform what’s known as a pancreatic resection, which involves the removal of part of the pancreas. Your doctor can walk you through this procedure, but as we mentioned above, the majority of people can make a full recovery with a minimally invasive procedure that leaves their pancreas intact.