Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It helps carry sugar from the blood into the cells. The cells use the sugar as energy for the body to work. If you have type 1 diabetes (T1D), your body makes very little or no insulin. That’s why you need to take insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes (T2D), your body makes too little insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes properly. You must take insulin if you have T1D. You may need to take insulin to help better manage your blood sugar levels if you have T2D.
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The type of insulin you take is based on three factors: how long it takes to start working (onset), when it is at its strongest action (peak), and how long it lasts (duration). Some types of insulin are called basal insulins. These last longer and give you a steady dose of insulin throughout the day and night. Other types are called mealtime, rapid, or bolus insulins. These usually last a shorter time but give you a greater amount of insulin to handle the spikes in blood sugar after a meal.
Mealtime (or “bolus”) insulin.Used before meals to control the rise of blood glucose levels after eating.
Basal insulin. Controls your blood glucose levels between meals and throughout the night. This is usually used once or twice daily. It can be used alone or in combination with oral medicines or rapid-acting insulin.
Pre-mixed insulin. Combination of bolus and basal insulin that controls blood glucose levels after and between meals. These are usually used twice daily before breakfast and dinner. They can be used alone or in combination with oral medicines.
The type of insulin your doctor prescribes will depend on the type of diabetes you have, your lifestyle (when and what you eat, how much you exercise), your age, your body’s response to insulin. It also depends on how often you are able or willing to check your blood glucose and give yourself injections.
People with type 1 diabetes often need more than one type of insulin. Most people with type 2 diabetes who use insulin just use basal (long-acting) insulin initially.
In recent years, scientists have developed new products called insulin analogs. These have been genetically engineered to better match the insulin produced by your pancreas.
Insulin analogs make it easier to control blood glucose. By controlling and preventing hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) and hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), they may reduce the risk of diabetic health problems and improve your quality of life. Like traditional insulins, insulin analogs are injected with a syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. Insulin analogs include long-acting, basal insulins (for example glargine and determir) and rapid-acting, bolus insulins (for example, lispro, aspart, and glulisine).
Some insulin analogs have not yet been approved for use during pregnancy. If you are or plan to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about the best insulin for you.
If you have diabetes, you should maintain a healthy lifestyle and learn as much as you can about your condition. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment and regularly monitor your blood glucose to avoid high or low blood glucose. You can manage your diabetes with diet, exercise, and medicines (if needed).
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