There are quite a number of patients (Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics) who have been prescribed insulin by medical practitioners. However, many of them are still unaware of its functions, how to use it, how to store it properly or how to adapt the dosage adequately. This article will shed some light on insulin and enable patients as well as their families to better understand it.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates, which is in the food that you eat, for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin plays a key role in the regulation of blood glucose levels. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas either 1) doesn’t make enough insulin or 2) the body can’t respond normally to the insulin that is produced. This then causes the glucose level in the blood to rise.
The role of insulin in the body
Insulin plays a number of roles in the body’s metabolism but, most importantly, it regulates on how the body uses and stores glucose and fat. Many of the body’s cells rely on insulin to take glucose from the blood for energy.
Insulin and Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to better manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
Insulin and Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body not responding effectively to insulin. This is termed as insulin resistance. As a result, the body is less able to take up glucose from the blood. In the earlier stages of type 2 diabetes, the body responds by producing more insulin than it would normally need to.
Depending on their level of insulin resistance, people with type 2 diabetes may also need to take insulin injections to manage their blood sugar levels.
Different types of Insulin
Insulin is characterised by differences in: 1) onset (how quickly they act), 2) peak (how long it takes to achieve the impact), 3) duration and 4) concentration.
Below are the different types of insulin that exist today:
- Rapid-acting: Usually taken before a meal to cover the blood glucose elevation that results from eating. This type of insulin is used with longer-acting insulin.
- Short-acting: Usually taken about 30 minutes before a meal to cover the blood glucose elevation that results from eating. This type of insulin is used with longer-acting insulin.
- Intermediate-acting: Covers the blood glucose elevations when rapid-acting insulins stop working. This type of insulin is often combined with rapid- or short-acting insulin and is usually taken twice a day.
- Long-acting: This type of insulin is often combined, when needed, with rapid- or short-acting insulin. It lowers blood glucose levels when rapid-acting insulins stop working. It is taken once or twice a day
How to store insulin properly?
- Keep the insulin away from heat and light eg. do not keep it in a hot vehicle. Any insulin that you don’t store in the refrigerator should be kept as cool as possible.
- Never let the insulin freeze.
- Keep unused bottles, cartridges, and pens of insulin in the refrigerator. If stored properly, the insulin will be good for use until the expiration date listed.
- Keep insulin cartridges and pens that you’re currently using at room temperature.
- Do not use insulin past the expiration date.
There are many myths surrounding insulin. The most famous is that patients feel that ‘insulin means that they failed in taking care of their diabetes. They wouldn’t need insulin if they had just taken better care of themselves.’
But the fact is needing insulin does not mean that a person has failed in their diabetes management. Because type 2 diabetes changes over time, after a while the pancreas may not be able to keep up with the body’s need for insulin—no matter what the person has done to manage their diabetes. When other medicines no longer keep the blood sugar on target, insulin is often the next step.