Forty-eight-hour fast: The diagnostic test for insulinoma

Boaz Hirshberg, Andrea Livi, D. L. Bartlett, S. K. Libutti, H. R. Alexander, J. L. Doppman, M. C. Skarulis, P. Gorden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


Insulinoma causes fasting hypoglycemia due to inappropriate insulin secretion. Its diagnosis is based on demonstrating Whipple's triad during a supervised 72-h fast. For 75 yr, the 72-h fast has been the cornerstone for the diagnosis; however, it has never been critically assessed using newer assays for insulin, C peptide, and proinsulin. Thus, the aim of the current study is to assess the need for a full 72-h fast for the diagnosis of insulinoma. Patients with suspected hypoglycemia with documented glucose concentrations below 45 mg/dL were admitted to the NIH. Data obtained during the supervised fast of patients with pathologically proven insulinoma over a 30-yr period (1970-2000) were reviewed. We identified 127 patients with insulinoma. The average age of patients was 42.7 ± 15.9 yr, with a predominance of females (62%). 107 patients had a benign tumor, 20 had malignant insulinoma, and 15 patients had multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1. The fast was terminated due to hypoglycemia in 44 patients (42.5%) by 12 h, 85 patients (66.9%) by 24 h, and 120 (94.5%) by 48 h. Seven patients fasted beyond 48 h despite subtle neuroglycopenic symptoms and glucose and insulin concentrations diagnostic of insulinoma. Immunoreactive proinsulin was elevated at the beginning of the fast in 90% of 42 patients. Proinsulin in noninsulinoma, in contrast to insulinoma, patients is usually suppressible; therefore, samples taken in the suppressed state have the greatest diagnostic value. We conclude that with the current available insulin and proinsulin assays, the diagnosis of insulinoma can be made within 48 h. Thus, the 48-h fast should replace the 72-h fast in textbooks and hospital protocols as the new diagnostic standard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3222-3226
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biochemistry, medical


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