If your doctor has prescribed insulin to treat your diabetes, it’s important to know as much as you can about this medication and how to use it. Read through this guide to help you take insulin correctly.
If you have any questions or concerns at all, please call your diabetes educator or another member of your diabetes team.
What is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose (also known as sugar) from your blood to your muscles and other cells where it is used for energy. Without insulin, glucose builds up in your blood. This can cause serious health problems.
With Type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin. With Type 2 diabetes (the most common type of diabetes), the body either does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin as it should. All people who have Type 1 diabetes and some people who have Type 2 diabetes need to take insulin to help control their blood glucose levels.
When you start using insulin, it can help you feel better, be more active and have a more flexible eating schedule. You and your diabetes educator work together to make taking insulin an easy part of your everyday life.
What Are the Different Kinds of Insulin?
Some types of insulin work right away and some work slowly during the day. The most common kinds of insulin are:
- Short-acting or rapid-acting insulin—You might take this kind of insulin before you eat your meals. It works quickly to balance your blood glucose.
- Intermediate-acting or long-acting insulin—You might take this kind of insulin to help keep your blood glucose balanced during the day and when you sleep. It works slowly all day and all night long.
- Premixed insulin—This is a mixture of insulins. It keeps your blood glucose balanced during the day and night and when you eat your meals.
Your diabetes educator works with you to find insulin that is right for you. You also get an insulin plan that includes the type of insulin you’ll use, it’s specific name, and the amount and timing for each injection.
How Do I Take Insulin?
Most types of insulin need to be injected. You can inject insulin either with a needle and syringe or with a pen to which you attach a needle. With both methods, the needles are small and thin to make injections more comfortable.
Some people use insulin pumps, which deliver rapid- or short-acting insulin through a catheter under the skin. Some of the insulin is delivered continuously to keep blood glucose levels in range between meals at a rate determined by your doctor. You can also push a button on the pump to give yourself extra insulin before a meal or if your blood glucose gets too high. Insulin pumps can be carried in a pocket or attached to a waistband, underwear or other article of clothing.
Talk to your diabetes educator about which of these options is best for you.
Insulin and Your Meals
Keeping a regular eating schedule can help keep your blood glucose at a safe level throughout the day. Follow these tips:
- Space out your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day. For example, you may have breakfast at 7 a.m., a snack at 10 a.m., lunch at 12:30 p.m., a snack at 3:30 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.
- Try to eat each meal and snack at the same time each day.
- Eat about the same amount at each meal each day.
- Do not skip meals.
Where to Inject Yourself
You should inject insulin just underneath the skin. Most people inject insulin in their stomach area, which is usually more comfortable. Do not inject into or close to your belly button.
Each time you give yourself insulin, choose a different spot within the injection area. If you inject in the same spot each time, hard lumps of fat can form. These make it harder for your body to absorb insulin.
After you inject yourself, put the needle in a container made for this purpose, known as a sharps disposal container. Check with your local health department or trash removal service to find out your community’s requirement for getting rid of a sharps container.
How to Inject Insulin
Follow these steps to give yourself a dose of insulin:
- Make sure the area you are injecting with insulin is clean. You can wash the area with soap and water. Let the area dry.
- Hold the syringe with the needle or the insulin pen in your hand.
- Stick the needle straight into the skin. Some patients may need to pinch a couple of inches of skin before inserting the needle. Your diabetes educator lets you know if you should do this.
- Inject the insulin. If you are using a syringe and needle, push the plunger all the way down. If you are using an insulin pen, push the injection button all the way down and hold for 10 seconds.
- Pull the needle straight out.
- If you are using an insulin pen, place the pen cap back on the pen. Do not leave the needle on the pen.
- Do not rub the spot you injected. Rubbing can affect how your body absorbs the insulin. Do not worry if a drop of blood appears where the needle was inserted.
- Remember to inject yourself in a different spot (within the injection area) each time.
If you have any questions about how to use insulin, ask your doctor or diabetes educator.
*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.