A Beginner’s Guide to Taking Insulin

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

If you have type 2 diabetes, your doctor may have told you that you need to take insulin. Consider this as good news. Research shows that taking insulin injections is one of the best ways for people who just found out they have type 2 diabetes to manage their diabetes. Here’s what you need to know if you’re starting insulin for the very first time. (All images credit: Thinkstock)

Tips for injecting

When you start taking insulin, your doctor or nurse will teach you how to inject it. When you take the shots, rotate where you inject so scar tissue doesn’t build up. You might give yourself a shot on one side of your stomach at breakfast, the other side at lunch, and in your leg at dinner. Don’t inject near your joints, groin, navel, the middle of your stomach, or on scars.

Do you have a fear of needles?

Some people are afraid of the needles you use for an insulin injection. But good news - they rarely hurt. But if you have this common “needle phobia,” we now have a great way to overcome it called the “Buzzy.”

Educate yourself on different insulin speeds

Insulin types vary depending on how fast they work, when they peak, and how long they last. The “bolus insulins,” which you take before your meals, can be rapid-acting or short-acting. The “basal insulins” are long-acting or intermediate-acting and aren’t timed to your meals.

Know how to time the insulin you take

When you take rapid-acting or short-acting insulin, the timing is important to prevent your blood glucose from going too low. It has to be at work in your body while you are absorbing what you eat. If you use rapid-acting insulin, you take it right before or right after your meal. If you use short-acting insulin, you take it 30 to 60 minutes before you eat.

You could qualify for premixed insulin

If you just need a simple insulin treatment plan, your doctor may prescribe premixed insulin. This combines intermediate-acting with rapid-acting or short-acting insulin and requires only two shots a day.

Watch out for hypos

When you take more rapid-acting or short-acting insulin than your body needs, your blood glucose level can go too low, which is hypoglycemia or “a hypo” for short. Taking glucose tabs is the best treatment. There may be a chance your glucose level ends up going very low, which is when you’ll need a glucagon injection or be taken to the nearest ER.

Know other methods of taking insulin

You can’t take insulin as a pill because your body would break it down during digestion just like it does in the protein you eat. Except when you use rapid-acting inhaled insulin, you need to inject insulin into the fat under your skin for it to get into your blood.

Pros and cons of pumping insulin

If you use an insulin pump, you can get a better A1C level, fewer hypos, and less variability in your blood glucose than with multiple daily injections. A pump provides precise delivery of insulin, more flexibility, and greater convenience. But pumping insulin can be trickier than injecting it.

How you can take less insulin

What you eat makes a big difference. Starchy carbs and sugar makes your blood glucose go up. When you eat less of them, you won’t need to take as much insulin, which is what Dr. Richard K. Bernstein calls “the laws of small numbers.” This makes your diabetes much easier to manage.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.