What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone that is made by the beta cells in your pancreas. It takes glucose from carbohydrates consume and converts it to energy that your body uses right away or stores for later use.
Insulin helps stabilize your blood sugar levels and keeps them from going too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia.)
Even though your body needs sugar for energy, the sugar usually can’t get into your cells directly. You need insulin to be released from your pancreas and then signal cells to soak up the sugar from your blood stream. This process allows the sugar to enter your cells and be used for energy.
If your body makes more sugar than it needs, your insulin will signal this sugar to be stored in your liver and release it when your blood sugar levels get too low. In other words, insulin helps your body balance your blood sugar levels and keeps them within normal range.
If your body can’t produce enough insulin cells becomes resistant to how insulin should normally work, you can develop hyperglycemia. This can cause complications like diabetes if your blood sugar levels stay too high for too long.
How is insulin used for diabetes?
If you can’t make insulin because the beta cells in your pancreas are destroyed or damaged, you have type 1 diabetes. You will likely need an external source insulin so that your body can properly process and utilize glucose and keep from developing hyperglycemia.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body develops a resistance to insulin and you may need insulin shots to help you process sugar/glucose that’s in the food you eat. In addition to insulin, people with type 2 diabetes may be treated with other medications along with routine diet and exercise. Healthcare experts say that therapy should also include weight reduction, exercise and a healthy diet.
There are several different types of insulin used to treat diabetes. They include:
- Rapid acting insulin: This type of insulin works after about 15 minutes after you inject it and lasts for approximately two to four hours. Rapid acting insulin is taken before meals and may be added to a long-acting insulin.
- Short-acting insulin: This type of insulin starts working after about 30 minutes after your injection and lasts for approximately three to six hours. It should be taken before meals and may be given in addition to a long-acting insulin.
- Intermediate-acting insulin: This type of insulin starts working about two to four hours after injection and lasts between 12-18 hours. Intermediate-acting insulin is usually taken twice a day and given in conjunction with rapid-acting or short-acting insulin.
- Long-acting insulin: This type of insulin starts working several hours after you inject it and lasts for approximately 24 hours. It is commonly used in conjunction with rapid-acting or short-acting insulin.
How do you take insulin?
Because insulin cannot be taken orally, it must be injected with a syringe, insulin pump, or insulin pen.
The type of injection method you are prescribed will depend on your personal preference, your health status, and the type of insurance you have.
Before you start taking insulin, your doctor or a diabetes educator will teach you how to administer the injection on yourself or a loved one.
Parts of the body that you can inject include:
- Upper arm
Some people only need to inject themselves once a day. Others will need to inject themselves several times a day and take other diabetes medication such as Metformin. Your doctor will work with you to determine the right amount (units) of insulin required and whether you need rapid-acting insulin, long-acting insulin, or both. You can change the site location of your injection each time in order to prevent thickening of your skin, bruising or local infection.
Be careful not to inject your insulin within two inches of your belly button. Your body won’t absorb the insulin as well at this location.
Can you have a reaction to insulin?
In some cases, it is possible to experience side effects of insulin such as weight gain and hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia occurs occurs when your blood glucose levels get too low and can be caused by not eating enough regularly or exercising too much. It is important to balance your insulin medication regimen with a regular, healthy intake of calories.
Some common symptoms hypoglycemia include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Muscle twitching
- Pale skin
- Loss of consciousness
You may experience other neurogenic symptoms such as tremors, palpitations, anxiety and hunger. Severe cases of hypoglycemia can lead to seizures and coma and even brain death.
However, such rare fatalities are thought to occur because of ventricular arrhythmias.
The onset of hypoglycemia can start at glucose levels lower than 65mg/dL but specific values vary from individual to individual.
If you have an ‘insulin reaction,’ you can help counteract the symptoms by carrying about 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate. You should carry this with you at all times in case of an emergency.
Fifteen grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate is equal to the following:
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 5 hard candies such as Lifesavers
- ½ cup of fruit juice
- ½ cup of non-diet soda
How do you monitor yourself when taking insulin?
Insulin is a must for people with type 1 diabetes. It may also be used for people who have type 2 diabetes whose blood sugar levels aren’t well-controlled by medication alone.
If you get diagnosed with diabetes, a health care team will help you create an insulin regimen that will help keep your blood glucose levels normal, along with setting you up with a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Many people with diabetes usually start out by taking two injections of insulin per day and gradually go up to three or four injections per day. They may take one or two types of insulin, depending on their blood glucose levels throughout the day.
Keeping track of your blood glucose levels over time can help you understand how exercise, stress, or different types of food can affect your levels. You can use this data to predict how your body will react to insulin and you will have a better chance of avoiding episodes of hyperglycemia (high sugar levels) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).
There are a few factors that can affect how your blood glucose levels fluctuate, including:
- When and how much you exercise
- The type of foods you eat
- The part of your body that you inject your insulin
- What time of day it is and how often you inject your insulin
Alternating your injection site
The location and the rate at which insulin enters the blood-stream can affect how much your blood glucose levels fluctuate. Insulin starts to work almost immediately after injected into the abdomen. Your upper arms are the next favorable injection site and thighs and buttocks are the slowest to absorb the insulin.
It is recommended that you inject yourself in the same general area each time with the same routine each day. For example, when you take your shot in the morning, inject yourself in the abdomen and when you take your shot in the evening, inject yourself in the thigh. This will give you the best results and keep your blood glucose results consistent. Try not to use the exact same location as fatty deposits or hard lumps may develop.
Are there other ways of injecting yourself besides a syringe?
Yes. You can use an insulin pen. Insulin pens usually have a cartridge filled with insulin that you can insert into the pen and discard after all the medication has been used. The dose that you need can be dialed on the pen. The insulin is injected through a needle, like a syringe.
Another method of administering the insulin is through an insulin pump. These pumps help you manage your diabetes by giving you insulin 24 hours a day. This is done through a catheter which is placed under your skin. An insulin pump allows you to control the amount of insulin your body gets.
Can you get a prescription for insulin online?
Yes. If you have received a diagnosis of diabetes, it is likely that you will receive an online prescription for insulin in order to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Luckily, you can be prescribed insulin online by telemedicine sites such as PlushCare. Studies have shown that telehealth care sites online can be an effective and convenient way of managing your diabetes and other health issues that may coincide with it.
It all starts with making an appointment and setting up an account with a tele-healthcare site like PlushCare.
At your appointment, you’ll visit with your doctor by phone or video chat. You should have a copy of your last A1c reading available to show your doctor. The A1c test measures your average blood sugar levels over a course of the past few months.
You will also want to share with your online doctor a record of your daily blood glucose levels that you take from your glucometer, as well as your medical history, any recent symptoms, and any medications that you’re currently taking. Some medications have interactions with others, so it’s important to be honest and let your doctor know about any medications, supplements, or vitamins that you take in order to avoid complications.
During your online visit, your doctor will review your previous glucose test results and talk with you about the medications that you may be using to manage your blood glucose levels. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as diet, sleep routines, and exercises that may help you improve your A1c levels.
At the end of your appointment, your doctor will make any necessary changes needed in your medications and give you a prescription for insulin. Because people with diabetes generally use medications that are not controlled substances, tele-healthcare services like PlushCare are able to prescribe insulin anywhere in the 50 states. However, in some states, you may be required to have a video chat in order to get a prescription for insulin rather than just a phone call.
After your visit, your doctor will call in your insulin prescription to the pharmacy of your choice that you can pick up at your convenience. You may be required to pay a co-payment if you have health insurance.