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The insulin test measures the blood insulin level. Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells of the pancreas and has a wide range of functions, including managing the blood glucose level and metabolizing fats and proteins.
The production of insulin by the pancreas occurs through a dynamic feedback loop related to blood glucose levels. When glucose levels are high, insulin is secreted in an effort to store the excess blood sugar. In contrast, insulin secretion is shut down when blood sugar levels are low. People with diabetes have issues with insulin in their body. In some cases, insulin is not adequately produced by the pancreas (Type I diabetes) while, in others, insulin has a lesser effect on storing extra glucose (Type 2 diabetes).
Occasionally, an insulin test might be performed to look for an insulin-producing tumor, particularly when one has persistently low blood glucose levels. Additionally, an insulin test, in conjunction with a C-peptide test can help assess any discrepancies related to how much insulin is being produced by the body when one is also taking insulin as a medication. Insulin test levels are sometimes drawn with the glucose test during a glucose tolerance test.
Even with normal insulin levels, it is important to highlight the concept of insulin sensitivity and resistance. The body's ability to respond to insulin is dependent on how sensitive the insulin receptors are to the insulin hormone present in the blood. If one has insulin resistance (e.g. in Type 2 diabetes), the receptors do not respond effectively even at normal levels of insulin which leads to persistently elevated blood sugar levels. As a result, some people with Type II diabetes and normal insulin levels have to inject additional insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control.