Everything you need to know about Insulin

You’ve probably heard of insulin in relation to diabetes but you may not know what it is. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar for energy. Insulin keeps blood sugar levels in check. Body cells need energy. The body uses sugar to create that energy. Because sugar can’t go directly to cells, the pancreas has to release insulin into the bloodstream which then unlocks cells to allow sugar to be used for energy.

If the body has more sugar than it needs to use, insulin helps store that sugar in the liver to be released when blood sugar levels are low.

People with type 1 diabetes can’t make insulin, therefore, they have to rely on insulin injections to allow their bodies to process sugar. Conversely, people with type 2 diabetes are resistant to insulin. They rely on insulin shots to help them process sugar more efficiently.

There are various types of insulin used for injections to treat and manage diabetes. The type of insulin injection used depends on the type of diabetes.

Rapid-acting insulin
Rapid-acting insulin usually starts working about 15 minutes after injection for about four hours. It is usually taken before a meal and sometimes taken before bed. This is the insulin that should help someone with type 1 diabetes process and use the carbohydrates in food. It imitates the bolus secretion—a release of insulin at mealtime.

Regular or Short-acting insulin
Starts working about 30 minutes after injection and continues to work for three to six hours. Usually given before a meal. This form of insulin also imitates the bolus secretion.

Intermediate-acting insulin
Starts working 2 to 4 hours after injection and continues to work for 12-18 hours. Usually taken twice a day. Used to imitate basal secretion, the insulin that’s always in your blood.

Long-acting insulin
Starts working several hours after injection and continues to work for about 24 hours. Also, imitates basal secretion.

The various types of insulin are often used in conjunction with one another. For example, it is not unusual for rapid-acting insulin to be used in addition to long-acting insulin.

Insulin must be injected as it cannot be administered orally. It can be given by a syringe, injection pen or an insulin pump. Unopened insulin should be refrigerated. Once it has been opened, insulin may be kept at room temperature for 30 days. Sometimes intermediate or long-acting insulin looks cloudy. If it does, roll the bottle gently between your palms to mix it. The preferred place to inject insulin is in the abdomen because it provides the best absorption. Alternately, the top of the thighs and back of upper arms may be used. Hold the syringe like a pencil, gently pinch skin with your free hand and insert the needle while releasing the pinch. Push down on the plunger steadily until the insulin is gone.

Your doctor will communicate your dosage for you the first time you take it. They’ll take into consideration your weight, age, diet, health and treatment goals.

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