Purpose: To characterize neuroglycopenic symptoms in the clinical presentation of patients with insulinomas.
Subjects and methods: Patients with histologically confirmed islet cell adenomas or carcinomas were identified at a single institution. Patient symptoms and clinical features of the insulinomas were obtained by retrospective medical record review with special attention to neuroglycopenic and autonomic symptoms.
Results: Of the 59 patients, 51% were female. Patients' ages ranged from 17 to 79 years (median 55) at the time of surgery. The interval from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis ranged from 1 month to 30 years (median 24 months). Most patients were diagnosed within 1 to 5 years (53%). Prior diagnoses included neurologic disorders (64%), especially seizure disorders (39%); 7 (12%) patients were treated with antiseizure medications. All patients had neuroglycopenic symptoms including confusion (83%) and personality change or bizarre behavior (64%). Amnesia for hypoglycemia was common (41%). Autonomic symptoms (83%) were usually diaphoresis (69%) or tremulousness (24%). Food ingestion relieved symptoms in 71% of patients; 39% reported weight gain.
Conclusions: Despite improving diagnostic techniques, the diagnosis of an insulinoma is often delayed. Careful inquiry about neuroglycopenic symptoms from patients and persons who know them well is necessary whenever hypoglycemia due to endogenous hyperinsulinemia is a clinical consideration. A history of neuroglycopenic symptoms should suggest the diagnosis of hypoglycemia associated with a hyperinsulinemic state.