What is the role of an insulin tolerance test in the workup of hyposomatotropism (growth hormone deficiency [GHD])?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019
  • Author: Sunil Kumar Sinha, MD; Chief Editor: Robert P Hoffman, MD  more...
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Insulin-induced hypoglycemia is the most potent stimulus for GH secretion and the most dangerous tool for provocative GH testing in patients who may have GH deficiency. Insulin tolerance testing takes advantage of the hormonal counterregulatory response to hypoglycemia. In patients without GHD, plasma concentrations of glucagon, epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, corticotropin, and GH are elevated in response to acute hypoglycemia.

To perform the test, patients fast for 8 hours. Then, lispro insulin 0.1 U/kg of body weight is administered rapidly as an intravenous bolus. Serial blood samples are subsequently obtained to measure GH, cortisol, and glucose concentrations at 0, 15, 30, 60, 75, 90, and 120 minutes. With each sample, the blood glucose level is simultaneously determined by using a bedside glucometer to document an appropriate reduction and to ensure safety. Performance of the test is considered adequate when the blood glucose level decreases below 50% of its baseline value.

Adverse effects expected during the procedure include symptoms secondary to hypoglycemia, such as lethargy, shaking, confusion, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, syncope, and seizure activity. The test must be performed under the watchful eye of the physician who can begin prompt resuscitation with glucose and/or glucagon as soon as the diagnostic samples have been obtained. To date, the insulin tolerance test is the only provocative test associated with fatalities; therefore, personnel must be trained and conduct the test judiciously.

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