Saved from a tiny, hidden tumour in nick of time
16 Jan, 2017

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Though over 70 million Indians battle high sugar levels due to diabetes, experts say there's also a need for awareness on rarer but equally dangerous instances of low sugar levels that may manifest in patients.

Sushila Chakraborty's story makes a strong case for it. Earlier this month, the 34-year-old suddenly collapsed, as her sugar dropped to dangerously low levels. Medical investigation revealed that a tiny, benign tumour made Sushila's pancreas its home.

"I fell on the side with a loud thud in the bathroom. My husband later told me I suffered from convulsions and froth emanated from my mouth," Sushila told DNA. Her husband Vishwanath rushed her to run Wockhardt Hospital in the vicinity.

Doctors later told her that Sushila was suffering from Insulinoma, a benign tumour in the pancreas, which produces excess insulin causing blood sugar levels to plummet to dangerous levels. It affects one to five in ten lakh people.

Dr Ritesh Agarwal, Endocrine Surgeon at Wockhardt said, "Sushila's problem aggravated early morning, when she was in a state of fasting for substantial hours post-dinner. It was difficult to diagnose the condition, as blood sugar levels stay normal during the day. She had to undergo a 72-hour supervised fasting blood sugar test," to ascertain if a tumour was at play, as suspected by Dr Agarwal. "In such cases, sugar levels dip when a patient goes without eating for a long time," he said.

Sushila was admitted in the morning when her sugar levels were 35 mg/dl. Normal fasting sugar levels are 70-110 mg/dl. "She was administered a glucose drip, that normalised her sugar levels in 15 minutes. Later, her readings were taken every hour. Five hours, her sugar decreased to 29 mg/dl.

At this level, her insulin should have also decreased to less than 5 IU in an ideal situation. However, the insulin was hovering around 17.7 IU. This indicated excess insulin in body," explained Dr Agarwal.

A CT scan showed up the tumour, the size of a marble about 1.5 cms. "It is a small tumour, and not cancerous, therefore it stays hidden while it creates havoc. In a similar case a patient deferred surgery, and later died due to sudden convulsions and life-threatening drop in sugar levels. Insulinoma tumours therefore require immediate surgery," the doctor said.

Arranging funds, about Rs 2 lakh, for the immediate surgery, however, proved challenging for the Chakrabortys. Vishwanath took a cover of upto Rs 4 lakh in 2016, and citing policy terms of a waiting period of two years, the insurance company rejected the claim. "Demonetization has added to the blues. We couldn't withdraw huge amounts from banks. Everyone from family chipped in to collect close to a lakh and a half for my treatment. I am doing well now and on the road to recovery," Sushila said.

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