Insulin therapy is something many people have to rely on when they have diabetes. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin on its own, or you can’t use it properly. As a result, glucose builds up in your blood rather than moving into your cells. If you have too much glucose in your blood and there’s not enough in your cells, it can cause health problems.
Beginning insulin for the first time can be overwhelming. You have to learn how to use it and monitor your blood sugar. You also have to properly dispose of the medical equipment you use for your insulin, and you have to prepare the correct dose each time.
The following are some general things to know about taking insulin if it’s new to you.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone your body produces to regulate your blood sugar levels. If you have type 2 diabetes, which affects tens of millions of people, you have insulin resistance. Your pancreas might make some insulin, but you don’t respond to it the way you should.
Sugar builds up in your blood if you don’t have enough regulatory insulin. That buildup can cause damage to your eyes, your heart, and other organs. If you inject insulin, it can reduce the risk of complications and potentially be lifesaving.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which means the body attacks itself. If you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system damages the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in younger people, but it can begin in adulthood in some cases.
With type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin’s effects. Your body needs more insulin for the same effects, and your body overproduces insulin to try and keep your glucose levels normal. After years of overproduction, your insulin-producing cells become burned out.
Injecting yourself with insulin can help manage both types of diabetes. The insulin you inject is either a replacement for your natural insulin or supplements it.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you can’t make insulin, so you use injections to manage your glucose levels. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may be able to manage your glucose levels with oral medication and changes to your lifestyle, but if you can’t, you may need supplemental insulin.
How Do You Administer Insulin?
The most common way to give yourself insulin is through a syringe or insulin pen. Insulin pumps are another option.
The way you take insulin will depend on your health needs, preferences, and insurance coverage.
Your doctor or a diabetes educator can teach you how to give yourself insulin, and you can inject it under the skin in various parts of your body like your thighs, abdomen, or upper arm.
A doctor will go over how important it is to change where you inject your insulin throughout your body because otherwise, you might get fatty deposits or lumps at the injection site.
If you prefer to take insulin without a needle or syringe, a couple of options may be available.
With an insulin pump, you get a continuous delivery through a tube placed into the fatty layer located under your skin. Your pump may be placed on the back of your upper arm or in your stomach area.
The pump delivers insulin more accurately than a syringe, but it could cause infection or weight gain. A pump is also more expensive.
Another needle-free delivery option for insulin is an inhaler. Insulin inhalers are for the delivery of ultra-rapid-acting insulin, and they’re most often used before you eat. Inhalers are often used along with an injectable and longer-acting form of insulin.
Tips For When You Start Insulin Therapy
Starting insulin therapy can be overwhelming, but remember the following:
- The best thing you can do is work closely with your healthcare team and communicate honestly with them. These are the people who can help you understand the importance of taking insulin exactly as it’s prescribed, and they can answer your questions.
- In reality, starting insulin isn’t as hard as you might think. You might start on long-acting insulin, or your doctor could recommend mealtime insulin. You might be able to change your delivery system if you try one and find it doesn’t work for you.
- Your doctor or diabetes educator will go over your schedule to check your blood sugar. They’ll provide you with instructions on how to handle this if you’re at home, on vacation, or at school. Initially, you might check your blood sugar more often because you need to make sure you’re within the target range.
- Hypoglycemia occurs when there’s too much insulin in your bloodstream and not enough sugar gets to your brain and muscles. You should learn the symptoms, including feeling cold, a rapid heartbeat, hunger, nausea, shakiness, and dizziness. You should always have a source of carbohydrates that are fast-acting around you if you experience low blood sugar, like juice or hard candy.
- Your insulin will need to be stored properly. You can usually store it at room temperature for ten to 28 days. How you store the insulin depends on the brand, injecting it, and the packaging. Some people store their insulin in the refrigerator.
- Just because you’re taking insulin doesn’t mean that a healthy lifestyle won’t still be helpful. You should stay active and eat a healthy diet when you take insulin to keep your blood sugar levels in the targeted range.
Finally, when you start insulin, you have to be prepared. You should be ready to test your blood sugar at any time, so have test strips and check their expiration date regularly. You may need to wear diabetes identification and keep a card in your wallet with emergency contact information.
The primary goal of treating type 2 diabetes is to reduce the risk of complications and manage your blood sugar levels. Using insulin can be an important part of this.