Metabolic Risk – Insulin Resistance

Type 2 diabetes (previously referred to as NIDDM : non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus) is perhaps the most commonly recognised metabolic disorder in the community.

The risk factors for developing diabetes include things you cannot change – age, family history and genetic factors. But some of the other major risks can be modified with sufficient motivation and support – obesity, physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, and high blood pressure.

In basic terms, insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas, and enables the body’s cells to use glucose. If you are lacking in insulin, or your body does not respond well to insulin, blood glucose levels rise resulting in symptoms (such as thirst, frequent urination and tiredness), and in the long-term, damage to tissues (such as blood vessels and nerves – which can result in kidney failure, blindness or limb amputation). The risk of heart disease and stroke is also higher.

While people with type 1 diabetes lack insulin, and must have injections or pump-delivered insulin to survive, people with type 2 have a problem with their cells responding to the insulin that their body produces. This is known as insulin resistance and it is increased by being less active, having less lean muscle, and having more fat in the tummy area.

Insulin therapy is often required in later stages of type 2 diabetes, but early on, the mainstay of treatment is to improve lifestyle to increase insulin sensitivity. There is also a vast array of medications available that are prescribed for people with diabetes.

Diabetes is expensive for individuals and for the community. Most people with diabetes end up on medications for cholesterol, blood pressure, the heart and/or kidneys and several different tablets and/or injections for diabetes.

Diabetes is common, and many people are yet undiagnosed, so it is a good idea to see your doctor so that your risk can be assessed, for example by the AUSDRISK tool. You can then be monitored, and make some changes to reduce your risk of this worrying condition.


Dr Marie Healy is a GP with interests in aged and chronic care and health promotion. This advice is general in nature; please see your GP for specific health advice regarding your individual circumstances.

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