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Diabetes Outlook

Understanding Insulin


What Does Insulin Do?

Insulin is a hormone produced in your pancreas that performs several important functions for your body. It helps take sugar (glucose) away from your blood and into your cells. Your cells then use it for energy.

Why Is It Important?

Sometimes your body doesn’t make any insulin. This is associated with type 1 diabetes.  Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough insulin or your body may not properly use the insulin you produce. That’s what happens if you have type 2 diabetes. This can cause health problems if it's not treated.

What Types of Insulin Are Available?

If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor may prescribe insulin as part of your treatment. You’ll give these to yourself at home one or more times a day using an injection pen or syringe, or through an insulin pump. Different kinds of insulin are available, and they vary according to how fast they work and how long their effects last.

Types of insulin include:

  • Rapid-acting (Usually taken about 15 minutes before a meal.)
  • Short-acting (Usually taken about 30 minutes before a meal.)
  • Intermediate (Often taken twice a day and combined with rapid- or short-acting insulin.)
  • Long-acting (Taken once or twice a day. Often combined with rapid- or short-acting insulin.)

What Type Will You Take?

Your doctor will choose the type he or she thinks will work best for you. You might be advised to take more than one type of insulin to help keep your blood sugar levels under good control. The type you take and how often you take it will depend on several things, including your weight, when your blood sugar levels are high, your diet and activity levels.

When Will Your Doctor Need to Adjust Your Medicine?

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may need to test your blood sugar two or more times a day. Your doctor will tell you when to test and how often. He or she will also sometimes perform an A1C test, which shows your average blood sugar level over the past three months.

Your glucose readings and the A1C test will help your doctor know if your insulin is doing a good job lowering your sugar levels. If they're not within your recommended range over time, your doctor may change your treatment plan. He or she may want you to take a higher dose of insulin or a different type. You may also need to take it more often, at a different time of day, or use more than one type of insulin.

What You Should Tell Your Doctor

Let your doctor know if you’re having any trouble giving yourself insulin or if you’re having any side effects. Don’t stop taking it or change how often you take it without getting your doctor’s approval. This could cause your blood sugar levels to rise too high. Tell your doctor or call 911 (in an emergency) if your insulin makes you itch or swell.  The most common side effect from insulin would be a potential low blood sugar (hypogclyemia) if you take too much insulin, don’t eat enough, or are more active than normal.

When you feel symptoms of low blood sugar, check to make sure it is actually low. A true low blood sugar is below 70 mg/dl. You can treat a low blood sugar by taking 15g of rapid acting sugar like 4oz juice, 4oz regular soda, 4 glucose tablets, 1 tbsp of honey or sugar. Recheck your blood sugar after 15 minutes to make sure it has come back up and then have a snack or eat your meal.  Make sure to let your doctor know about any low blood sugar events that occur. 

Summing It Up

Insulin plays an important role in your health. If you have diabetes, it may be a part of your treatment plan. Insulin—along with diet, exercise, and sometimes other medicines—can help you lead a long, healthy life.


The contents of DiabetesOutlook.com are intended solely for informational purposes and do not replace the advice of your physician or diabetes care team. You should not rely on any information provided by DiabetesOutlook.com without also consulting your physician. DiabetesOutlook.com maintains all information collected in accordance with applicable law.

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