Insulin replacement may be necessary when natural insulin reserves are depleted. It is typically started in combination with an oral drug (usually metformin).
Because type 2 diabetes is progressive, many patients eventually need insulin. However, when a single oral drug fails to control blood sugar it is not clear whether it is better to add insulin replacement or a second or third oral drug.
Some doctors advocate using insulin as early as possible for optimal control. However, in patients who still have insulin reserves, there is concern that extra natural insulin will have adverse effects. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and weight gain are the main side effects of insulin therapy. It is still not clear if insulin replacement improves survival rates compared to oral drugs, notably metformin.
Forms of Insulin. There are two main insulin types:
- Fast-Acting Insulins for Surges. Insulin lispro and aspart are fast-acting insulins. They mimic insulin's response to food intake. They are taken before meals, and their short action reduces the risk for hypoglycemia afterward.
- Slower Insulins for Base Levels. Intermediate forms (including NPH and lente) and long-acting forms (glargine, ultralente) were developed to provide a steady level of insulin throughout the day. To date, glargine (Lantus) seems to be the most successful in achieving this goal in type 2 diabetes.
In general, there is no advantage to dosing insulin more than two times a day for patients with type 2 diabetes.
[For more information, see In-Depth Report #9: Diabetes - type 1.]
Review Date: 04/01/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.