How well do you understand the relationship between type 2 diabetes and insulin? Learning how your body uses insulin and how it affects your condition can give you a big picture view of your own health.

Read on to get the facts about the role that insulin plays in your body and the ways insulin therapy can be used to manage type 2 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas. It helps your body use and store sugar from food.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t respond effectively to insulin. The pancreas isn’t able to compensate properly, so there’s a relatively decreased insulin production. As a result, your blood sugar levels get too high. Over time, high blood sugar can cause damage to your nerves, blood vessels, eyes, and other tissues.

If you have type 2 diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels is a key part of staying healthy and reducing your risk of long-term complications. To help lower your blood sugar, your doctor might recommend one or more of the following:

  • lifestyle changes
  • oral medications
  • non-insulin injectable medications
  • insulin therapy
  • weight loss surgery

Insulin therapy can help many people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar and reduce their risk of complications.

Several types of insulin are available. They broadly fall into two categories:

  • fast/short acting insulin used for meal time coverage
  • slow/long-acting insulin, which is active between meals and overnight

There are several different types and brands available in each of these two categories. Premixed insulins are also available, which include both kinds of insulin. Not everyone needs both kinds, and a prescription for insulin should be individualized for the person’s needs.

In the United States, there’s one brand of insulin that can be inhaled. It’s a rapid-acting form of insulin. It’s not suitable for everyone with type 2 diabetes.

If your doctor thinks you might benefit from rapid-acting insulin, consider asking them about the potential benefits and downsides of using an inhalable medication. With this type of insulin, lung function needs to be monitored.

Other than one type of inhalable insulin, all other types of insulin are given by injection. Intermediate-and long-acting insulin can only be injected. Insulin can’t be taken in pill form because your digestive enzymes would break it down before it could be used in your body.

Insulin should be injected into the fat just below your skin. You can inject it into the fat of your abdomen, thighs, buttocks, or upper arms.

To inject insulin, you can use any of the following delivery devices:

  • Syringe. This empty tube attached to a needle can be used to draw a dose of insulin from a bottle and inject it into your body.
  • Insulin pen. This injectable device contains a premeasured amount of insulin or cartridge filled with insulin. The individual dose can be dialed up.
  • Insulin pump. This automated device delivers small and frequent doses of insulin into your body, through a catheter placed under your skin.

You can talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of different delivery methods for your medication.

Practicing healthy habits can potentially delay or prevent your need for insulin therapy. If you’ve already started insulin therapy, adjusting your lifestyle might help reduce the amount of insulin you need to take.

For example, it might help to:

  • lose weight
  • adjust your diet
  • exercise more often

If you’ve been prescribed insulin therapy, it can take a little trial and error to learn what types and dosages of insulin work best for you. Blood sugar tests can help you and your doctor learn how your body is responding to your current insulin regimen. If needed, your doctor can make changes to your prescribed treatment plan.

Some brands of insulin and types of delivery devices are less expensive than others. For example, syringes tend to cost less than insulin pumps.

If you have health insurance, contact your provider to learn what types of insulin and delivery devices are covered. If your current insulin regimen is too expensive, talk to your doctor to learn if there are more affordable options.

In some cases, you might develop side effects from insulin, such as:

  • low blood sugar
  • weight gain
  • pain or discomfort at the injection site
  • infection at the injection site
  • in rare cases, an allergic reaction at the injection site

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is one of the most serious potential side effects from taking insulin. If you start taking insulin, your doctor will talk to you about what to do if you experience low blood sugar.

If you experience any side effects from taking insulin, let your doctor know.

Depending on your health history and lifestyle, you may need to take insulin as part of your treatment plan for type 2 diabetes. If your doctor recommends insulin, you can talk to them about the benefits and risks of the medication, and any other concerns you may have.