Understanding Insulin

Your healthcare team will develop a plan to help manage your diabetes. This will likely include changes to your eating plan, physical activity, and medications. Even if insulin is not a part of your care plan, it is important to understand its role, as diabetes is a progressive disease with ever-changing strategies for management. Insulin medication and needles

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that keeps blood sugar within normal ranges in the bloodstream. Insulin moves the sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the cells to nourish the body. Everyone with type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections because their body produces little or no insulin. Some with type 1 diabetes go through a period referred to as a “honeymoon phase” shortly after diagnosis, where the pancreas may still produce a small amount of insulin. This phase can last weeks or months, but is temporary, resulting in the need for insulin injections. 

The following are common assumptions made about insulin that are not accurate: 

If I have to take insulin, I must be a failure. 

It is not uncommon for those with type 2 diabetes to eventually need insulin because diabetes is a progressive disease. Few people with type 2 diabetes start out taking insulin, but about one in three will end up taking insulin. The necessity for insulin injections should never be viewed as a failure. 

Taking insulin means my diabetes is somehow more serious. 

Insulin is a natural way to keep your diabetes well managed and prevent diabetes-related complications. It is most important to manage diabetes with the best medical therapy available. 

Insulin injections are painful. 

Most of us do not relish the thought of having to take daily injections. Insulin is injected into the fat right beneath the skin where there are few nerve endings. The pen needles and insulin syringes of today are so thin that most people report little to no discomfort. 

I will never be able to give myself a shot. 

Young and old alike can be taught how to administer an insulin injection. Special adaptive devices are available for those with poor dexterity, vision issues, or fear of needles. 

I will gain weight on insulin. 

Taking insulin can make weight loss more difficult, although decreasing caloric intake and increasing physical activity play the greatest role in weight status. If you do gain weight, talk to your dietitian and health care provider about making sure the meal plan and insulin plan are the best for you. 

If I agree to start insulin, it will be forever. 

Anyone with type 1 diabetes will have to take insulin forever. For others, it depends on how long you have had diabetes and how much insulin your pancreas is able to secrete. Many with type 2 diabetes can reduce or eliminate the need for insulin with the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviors, like weight loss and increased physical activity. Newly developed diabetes medications can sometimes replace insulin. 

Insulin will cause low blood sugar. 

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can happen with insulin; however, careful dosing, monitoring, and meal planning make hypoglycemia less common. The use of long-acting insulins has lessened hypoglycemia occurrences because these insulins do not peak like regular and fast-acting insulin.