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Insulin Resistance



  • Insulin resistance means the body makes enough insulin, but the cells are not able to use it properly. Over time, if insulin resistance is not treated and gets worse, it may lead to diabetes.
  • Treatment includes lifestyle changes such as weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet to help lower blood sugar levels.


What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, an organ in the upper belly. Your child’s body breaks down some of the foods your child eats into sugar. Then, it uses insulin to help move sugar from the blood into the cells for energy.

Insulin resistance means your child’s body makes enough insulin, but the cells are not able to use it properly. Sugar can’t get into the cells, and stays in the blood. This causes higher than normal levels of blood sugar and is not good for your child’s health. Over time, if insulin resistance is not treated and gets worse, it may lead to diabetes. It may also increase your child’s risk for heart disease.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of insulin resistance is not known. Your child may have an increased risk for insulin resistance if he:

  • Is overweight, especially extra weight around the belly
  • Does not get enough physical activity
  • Has family members with insulin resistance or diabetes
  • Is African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, or Pacific Islander
  • Has had an abnormal fasting blood sugar test
  • Takes certain medicine, such as steroids
  • Has certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fatty liver, or sleep apnea
  • Uses nicotine, such as smoking, chewing tobacco, or nicotine gum

What are the symptoms?

Most of the time, there are no symptoms. In rare cases, insulin resistance may cause dark patches on the skin of the back of the neck, armpits, elbows, knuckles, or knees.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child will have blood tests.

How is it treated?

Treatment includes lifestyle changes to help lower blood sugar levels:

  • Weight loss. If your child is overweight, your healthcare provider may recommend that he lose weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can help.
  • Increased physical activity. Increased activity and exercise improves blood flow, uses up more of the sugar in the blood, and helps your child’s body use insulin better.
  • Changes to your child’s diet. Your healthcare provider may recommend your child eat less foods such as white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, soda, juices, and foods that contain sugar. Sugary and starchy foods cause increased blood sugar levels, and can make insulin resistance worse.

How can I take care of my child and prevent insulin resistance?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Make sure that your child stays active and exercises regularly according to your provider's advice. Ask your healthcare provider for the best kind of exercise and activity for your child.
  • Make sure that your child eats a healthy diet. This includes lean meat, beans, whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Help your child keep a healthy weight. If he is overweight, your healthcare provider can help with a safe, healthy, effective weight loss program for your child.
  • Make sure that your child gets enough sleep.
  • Ask your child’s provider:
    • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
    • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
    • How to take care of your child at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-03-23
Last reviewed: 2015-03-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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