Insulin therapy plays a crucial role in managing your blood sugar and can help you prevent diabetes complications.
You may need to take a single type of insulin or a combination of multiple types of insulin throughout the day. This depends on several lifestyle factors, your diet, and how well your blood sugar is controlled between meals.
Using insulin can be tricky sometimes. Here are some do’s and don’ts to pay attention to as you learn how to effectively manage your diabetes with insulin.
Do rotate the place where you inject insulin
Try not to inject your insulin in the same exact place on your body every time. This is to prevent a condition called lipodystrophy. In lipodystrophy, the fat under the skin either breaks down or builds up and forms lumps or indentations that can obstruct insulin absorption.
Instead, rotate injection sites. The best places for injecting insulin are your abdomen, front or side of thighs, upper buttocks, and upper arms due to their higher fat content. Each injection should be at least two inches from the previous site. Try not to inject too close to your belly button (at least two inches away) or into any moles or scars.
For mealtime insulin, it’s best to consistently use the same part of the body for each meal. For example, you can inject in your stomach prior to breakfast, your thigh prior to lunch, and your arm prior to dinner.
Do clean your skin before you inject
Clean your skin with cotton dipped in alcohol or an alcohol pad before you inject yourself. Wait 20 seconds for the area to dry before you inject. This helps avoid infections.
You should also wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before you handle any needles.
Do check your blood sugar regularly and write down each measurement
Your insulin treatment involves much more than injecting insulin. You need to check your blood sugar level regularly using a blood glucose monitor. The constant need to test your blood sugar can feel like a burden, but it’s a crucial part of your diabetes care plan.
Blood sugar measurements can change depending on your stress level, how much exercise you’re getting, illness, changes in your diet, and even hormonal changes during the month. Major changes could mean that you have to adjust your insulin dose.
Write down each measurement or record it in an app on your phone to show to your doctor. Your doctor needs this information to determine how much insulin is right for you.
Do count your carbs before using mealtime insulin
The amount of mealtime insulin you need to inject is based on the number of servings of carbohydrates you plan on eating during a meal. Over time, you’ll get better at figuring out your carb intake. In the meantime, a dietitian can help you come up with a meal plan that works for you.
There are also several smartphone applications and internet-based calculators available to help you figure out your carb intake and your corresponding insulin dosage.
Do know the signs of hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can happen when you take the wrong insulin dose, don’t eat enough carbs right after taking your insulin, exercise more than usual, or when you’re stressed.
You should take the time to learn the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, including:
- being unable to speak or think clearly
- loss of muscle coordination
- pale skin
- loss of consciousness
You should also learn how to manage hypoglycemia if it happens to you. For example, you can eat or drink glucose tablets, juice, soda, or hard candies. You should also be extra cautious after vigorous exercise, as it can lower blood sugar for hours after the workout.
Do tell friends and family that you’re taking insulin
It’s a good idea to teach your friends, colleagues, and family members about insulin and its potential side effects. If you do end up taking too much insulin and having a hypoglycemic episode, they should know how to help.
If you become unconscious, a friend or family member can give you a shot of glucagon. Talk to your doctor about keeping a supply of glucagon on hand and learning when and how to use it.
Don’t inject the insulin too deep
Insulin is supposed to be injected into the fat layer under the skin using a short needle. This is referred to as a subcutaneous injection.
If you inject the insulin too deep and it enters your muscle, your body may absorb it too quickly. The insulin might not last very long and the injection could be very painful.
Don’t wait more than 15 minutes to eat after taking a mealtime insulin
Rapid-acting (mealtime) insulins were designed to be taken right before you eat to help you control your blood sugar more effectively.
As the name suggests, rapid-acting insulin starts to work rapidly in the bloodstream. If you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar can actually end up getting too low. This puts you at risk for hypoglycemia.
If, for some reason, you can’t eat a meal after you’ve already taken your mealtime insulin, you should carry around glucose tablets, juice, non-diet soda, raisins, or hard candies to avoid hypoglycemia.
Don’t panic if you accidentally take the wrong dose
Calculating the right dose of mealtime insulin can be complicated at first, especially if you don’t know how many carbohydrates you’re going to be eating at your next meal.
Try not to panic if you realize you took too much or too little insulin.
If you think you’ve taken too much insulin, eat some rapidly-absorbed carbs, like juice or glucose tabs. Also, you may want to call your doctor.
If you’ve taken a lot more than you need (like double or triple the correct dose), have a friend or family member get you to a hospital. You may need to be observed for severe low blood sugar.
If you think you’ve taken too little insulin, or you completely forgot to take it at all before your meal, measure your blood sugar. If it gets too high, you may need to take a short or rapid-acting (mealtime) insulin as a corrective measure to lower your blood glucose levels. If you’re at all unsure about the dose, seek advice from your doctor or diabetes care team.
If your glucose is still too high even after a correction dose, give it time. Injecting too soon can lead to dangerously low glucose.
When it comes time to take your next shot, you may be at a higher risk of hypoglycemia. You should monitor your blood glucose levels more than usual for the next 24 hours.
Don’t switch your insulin dose or stop taking it without seeing your doctor first
Switching your insulin medication or changing the dose without asking a doctor can put you at risk for serious side effects and complications.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you should be seeing your doctor or endocrinologist for a checkup roughly every three to four months. At your appointment, your doctor can assess your individual insulin needs and give you proper training on new doses or dosing methods.
The bottom line
Injecting insulin is simple, safe, and effective as long as you learn the right techniques and keep a close record of your blood sugar.
If you have questions or concerns, don’t forget about your diabetes care team, which includes your doctors, nurses, dieticians, pharmacists, and diabetes educators. They are there to walk you through the process and answer any questions that arise.