Insulin and Diabetes: Your Questions Answered

Insulin and Diabetes: Your Questions Answered

People with diabetes often have to take insulin shots. Here are the answers to some common questions about insulin.

People with diabetes often have to take insulin shots. If you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with diabetes, you may have a lot of questions about insulin. Here are some answers.

What is insulin, and why is it important?

Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugar. It is made by the pancreas, a large organ that lies behind your stomach.

When you eat, your digestive system breaks the food down into simpler forms that the body can use. Most food is broken down into a form of sugar called glucose. Glucose travels through the body in the blood. Insulin helps glucose move from the bloodstream into the cells, where it can be used for energy, growth, and repair.

What does insulin have to do with diabetes?

In healthy people, the pancreas releases the right amount of insulin to move glucose into the cells. But people with diabetes have a problem:

  • People with type 1 diabetes don’t make insulin.
  • People with type 2 diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or their bodies don’t use it properly, which is called insulin resistance.

Without the proper amount of insulin, glucose builds up in the blood and passes out of the body in the urine. This means the body loses its main source of energy. High blood sugar also damages the blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, which can lead to serious problems.

Taking insulin shots helps correct the balance between blood sugar and insulin in the body. All people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin. Some people with type 2 diabetes take insulin.

Can insulin be taken as a pill instead of a shot?

No. At this time, insulin is available only as an injection. If insulin was swallowed, it would be destroyed by the digestive system. It needs to be injected into the fat under the skin.

Most people who need insulin use syringes to give themselves shots. Some people use insulin pens, pumps, or jet injectors. Experts keep looking for easier ways to take insulin.

Is all insulin the same?

No. There are four different types. The types are based on how quickly they work (onset) and how long they work (duration).

  • Rapid-acting insulin starts to work 5 minutes after it’s injected and keeps working for 2 to 4 hours.
  • Short-acting insulin starts to work within 30 minutes and keeps working for 3 to 6 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting insulin starts to work within 2 to 4 hours and keeps working for 12 to 18 hours.
  • Long-acting basal insulin starts to work within 1 hour and keeps working for 20 to 26 hours.

There are over 20 different insulin products. Many people use an insulin product that combines either a rapid- or short-acting insulin with an intermediate-acting one. This is often the best way to keep blood sugar at an even level.

Does insulin cause side effects?

Insulin can cause:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Weight gain

Taking too much insulin can cause blood sugar to drop too low. This can be dangerous. That’s why it’s important to always check blood sugar before taking an insulin shot.

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