Insulin is a type of hormone produced by your pancreas. It helps your body store and use carbohydrates found in food.
If you have non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes), it means your body doesn’t use insulin effectively and your pancreas isn’t able to compensate with enough insulin production.
As a result, you might have to use insulin therapy to prevent your blood sugar from getting too high.
Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range is vital to your overall well-being. It can also help lower your risk for complications, such as blindness, kidney disease, amputations, and heart attack or stroke.
If your doctor tells you that you need to take insulin to help manage your blood sugar levels effectively, you should start treatment as quickly as possible.
Not taking insulin if you need it can lead to significant health issues, including high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia.
The likelihood of having to use insulin for blood sugar management increases with the duration of diabetes, especially over 10 years. Many people start with oral medication for management but eventually progress to insulin therapy.
Insulin can be used by itself as well as in combination with other diabetes treatments.
Here are some circumstances when insulin therapy may be necessary:
- when blood sugar management is an immediate need that can’t be managed without it
- when an eating plan, weight loss, exercise, and other medications don’t achieve targeted blood glucose goals
- when you need to manage blood sugar for a temporary period such as for surgery, during pregnancy, while taking steroid medication, or with diabetic ketoacidosis
- when early insulin therapy after diagnosis
could be a benefit
Many different treatments for type 2 diabetes exist. Your doctor might recommend other treatments over insulin.
For example, they might encourage you to:
- make lifestyle changes such as losing weight, changing your eating plan, or increasing exercise
- take oral medications
- take non-insulin injectables
In some cases, these treatments might be effective for helping manage your blood sugar levels. In other cases, you might need insulin therapy.
If your doctor prescribes insulin, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It only means that your diabetes has progressed, and your treatment plan has changed.
Insulin isn’t available in pill form. To work properly, it has to be inhaled or injected. If insulin were taken as a pill, it would be destroyed by your digestive system before it had a chance to work.
Currently, there’s one type of inhaled insulin available in the United States. It’s rapid-acting and can be inhaled before meals.
It’s not a suitable replacement for long-acting insulin, which can only be injected.
There are multiple types of insulin available to treat type 2 diabetes. The different types vary in terms of:
- how quickly they start to work
- when they peak
- how long they last
Rapid-acting insulin is typically used to provide a surge of insulin at mealtime. It can take about 15 minutes to take effect. It can also be used to correct high blood sugar. This is known as bolus insulin replacement.
Short-acting insulin takes about 30 minutes to take effect. It’s also taken before a meal, but it’s longer-lasting than rapid-acting insulin.
Intermediate-acting insulin lasts about 10 to 16 hours and is typically used to maintain a low and steady level of insulin in your body throughout the day.
This is known as basal or background insulin replacement. This type is intended to be administered twice per day.
Long-lasting insulin is similar to immediate-acting insulin in that it offers a steady level of insulin. But it’s meant to last 20 to 24 hours so that you only have to take it once per day.
Talk with your doctor to learn which types of insulin are best for you. In some cases, you might need a combination of basal and bolus insulin. Premixed insulins containing both types are also available.
Many people with type 2 diabetes can benefit from insulin therapy, but like most medications, it carries some risks.
The most serious risk is low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Left untreated, low blood sugar can be a medical emergency.
Low blood sugar can usually be treated quickly and effectively by eating a higher-sugar item, such as glucose tablets, and then monitoring your blood sugar levels.
If your doctor prescribes insulin to treat your diabetes, they’ll talk with you about managing the risk of low blood sugar.
There are other risks with taking insulin. For example, the injections can be uncomfortable. Insulin can also potentially cause weight gain or, rarely, infection at the injection site.
Your doctor can tell you more about the potential benefits and risks of adding insulin to your treatment plan.
If you think you might be experiencing side effects from insulin, contact your doctor right away.
Some people with type 2 diabetes need a single dose of insulin per day. Others need 2 or more doses per day.
Your recommended insulin regimen can vary depending on:
- your medical history
- trends in your blood sugar levels
- the timing and contents of your meals and workouts
- the type of insulin you use
Your healthcare team will instruct you about how often and when you should take your prescribed insulin.
Insulin injections can be administered using:
- a syringe
- an insulin pen
- an insulin pump
You can use any of these devices to inject insulin into the fat layer below your skin. For example, you can inject it into the fat of your abdomen, thighs, buttocks, or upper arms.
Your healthcare provider can help you learn how to inject insulin. Ask them about the relative benefits and downsides of using a syringe or insulin pen. They can also teach you how to safely dispose of used equipment.
Injecting yourself with insulin might seem intimidating at first. But over time, you can become more comfortable and confident giving yourself injections.
Ask your healthcare provider for tips to make injections easier and less uncomfortable.
For example, they might encourage you to:
- use a syringe with a short, thin needle
- use an insulin pen or pump, instead of a syringe
- avoid injecting insulin into the same spot every time
- avoid injecting insulin into muscles, scar tissue, or varicose veins
- allow your insulin to come to room temperature before taking it
- don’t be afraid to ask for help
According to the American Diabetes Association, insulin will keep for about a month at room temperature. If you plan to store it for longer, you should refrigerate it.
Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider for more advice on storing insulin.
Insulin therapy helps many people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
Your doctor can explain the potential benefits and risks of adding it to your treatment plan.
They can also help you learn how to safely store and inject insulin.