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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2010 Sep;73(3):286-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2265.2010.03810.x. Epub 2010 Apr 23.

What is the best management strategy for patients with severe insulin resistance?

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Metabolic Research Laboratories, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK.


Management of severe insulin resistance (IR) is a major clinical challenge in many patients with obesity or lipodystrophy, and also in rarer patients with proven or suspected genetic defects in the insulin receptor or downstream signalling. The latter group can present at any time between birth and early adult life, with a variable clinical course broadly correlated with the severity of IR. Primary insulin signalling defects are usually associated with poor weight gain rather than obesity. Initially, extreme hyperinsulinaemia produces ovarian enlargement and hyperandrogenism in women, and often fasting or postprandial hypoglycaemia. However, any hypoglycaemia gradually evolves into insulin-resistant hyperglycaemia when beta cell function declines. Optimal management of these complex disorders depends on early diagnosis and appropriate targeting of both high and low glucose levels. In newborns, continuous nasogastric feeding may reduce harmful glycaemic fluctuations, and in older patients, acarbose may mitigate postprandial hypoglycaemia. Insulin sensitization, initially with metformin but later with trials of additional agents such as thiazolidinediones, is the mainstay of early therapy, but insulin replacement, eventually with very high doses, is required once diabetes has supervened. Preliminary data suggest that rhIGF-1 can improve survival in infants with the most severe insulin receptor defects and also improve beta cell function in older patients with milder receptoropathies. The utility of newer therapies such as glucagon-like peptide-1 agonists and dipeptidyl peptidase-IV inhibitors remains untested in this condition. Thus, management of these patients remains largely empirical, and there is a pressing need to collate data centrally to optimize treatment algorithms.

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