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Reviewed by Deborah Wexler, MD

Most people make insulin in their pancreas. Insulin stores glucose from food in all parts of the body to be used for energy. People with type 1 diabetes do not make any insulin at all, and have to take insulin injections (shots).

Detailed Description

Most people make insulin in their pancreas. Insulin stores glucose from food in all parts of the body to be used for energy.

People with type 1 diabetes do not make any insulin at all, and have to take insulin injections (shots). People with type 1 diabetes usually take long-acting insulin once or twice per day and fast-acting insulin before meals.

Some people with type 2 diabetes make some insulin, but not enough to meet the body’s needs. Other people with type 2 diabetes take insulin to keep their pancreas working better for a longer period of time.

Insulin is injected just under the skin with a small, short needle. Insulin is the most effective medicine for diabetes. Most people who go on insulin after taking pills wish they had started earlier because it works so well and is much easier to take than they expected.

Can insulin be taken as a pill?

Insulin is a protein. If you took insulin as a pill, your body would break it down and digest it before it got into your blood to lower your blood glucose.

How does insulin work?

Insulin lowers blood glucose by moving glucose from the blood into the cells of your body. Once inside the cells, glucose provides energy. Insulin lowers your blood glucose whether you eat or not. You should eat on time if you take insulin.

How often should I take insulin?

Many people with type 2 diabetes take only one injection of long-acting insulin per day, often before bed. Other people with type 2 diabetes need at least two insulin shots a day for good blood glucose control. Some people take three or four shots a day to have a more flexible diabetes plan.

When should I take insulin?

You should take insulin 30 minutes before a meal if you take regular insulin alone or with a longer-acting insulin. If you take a rapid-acting insulin, you should take your shot just before or immediately after you eat.

Are there several types of insulin?

Yes. There are seven main types of insulin. They each work at different speeds. Many people take two types of insulin – a long-acting and a short-acting type.

Does insulin work the same all the time?

After a short time, you will get to know when your insulin starts to work, when it works its hardest to lower blood glucose, and when it wears off.
You will learn to match your mealtimes and exercise times to the time when each insulin dose you take works in your body.

How quickly or slowly insulin works in your body depends on:

  • your own response
  • the place on your body where you inject insulin
  • the type and amount of exercise you do and the length of time between your injection and exercise

    Where on my body should I inject insulin?

    You can inject insulin into several places on your body. Insulin injected near the stomach works fastest. Insulin injected into the thigh works slowest. Insulin injected into the arm works at medium speed. Injecting insulin into an arm or leg area before exercise can increase the speed at which it works. Ask your doctor or diabetes teacher to show you the right way to take insulin and in which parts of the body to inject it.

    How should I store insulin?

  • If you use a whole bottle of insulin within 30 days, keep that bottle of insulin at room temperature. On the label, write the date that is 30 days away. That is when you should throw out the bottle with any insulin left in it.

  • If you do not use a whole bottle of insulin within 30 days, then store it in the refrigerator all the time.

  • If insulin gets too hot or cold, it breaks down and does not work. So, do not keep insulin in very cold places such as the freezer, or in hot places, such as by a window or in the car's glove compartment during warm weather.

  • Keep at least one extra bottle of each type of insulin you use in your house. Store extra insulin in the refrigerator.

    What are possible side effects of insulin?

  • hypoglycemia
  • weight gain

    Are insulin injections painful?

    While insulin injections require a needle, modern needles are very small, and are injected into parts of the body that are not very sensitive to pain. As a result, injecting insulin is much less painful than self-monitoring of blood glucose with a fingerprick.

    Does taking insulin mean my diabetes is “bad” or that I have “failed”?

    NO! New research suggests that starting insulin early in type 2 diabetes keeps the body’s pancreas working longer. The latest recommendations suggest starting insulin early, rather than as a last resort.

    Last updated: 18-Dec-07

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