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New to using insulin?

March 9, 2023
3 minutes

Many Americans use insulin to help manage their diabetes. If you’re about to start taking insulin for the first time, it’s normal to have questions. Here’s what you need to know about your new medication, including how it works and how to store it safely.

What is insulin, and what does it do? Insulin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the pancreas. It helps your body use or store blood sugar, also called glucose. Blood sugar is one of the byproducts of the food we eat.

Who needs to take insulin and why? Anyone with diabetes may need to use insulin for a variety of reasons. For instance, people with type 1 diabetes always need to take insulin because their bodies don’t produce the hormone at all anymore. People with type 2 diabetes do produce insulin, but the hormone doesn’t always work as effectively as it should. When that happens, they may need to take insulin to help keep their diabetes under control.

There are several different types of insulin. They differ by:

  • How fast they work.
  • Their peak time, meaning when they are most effective.
  • How long their effects last.

Your doctor will determine which kind of insulin is best for you.

How is insulin delivered into the body? There are different ways you can take insulin. Options include using:

Needles. Many people inject insulin into their bodies. In most cases, insulin is injected into the belly, thigh or buttocks.

Insulin pens. These devices include a needle filled with insulin. Some are one-use. Others include a cartridge that you refill with insulin each time.

Insulin pumps. An insulin pump is a device that is worn or carried. It delivers small amounts of insulin into the body 24 hours a day.

Jet injectors. These devices spray insulin into the skin at a very high pressure.

How do I use insulin most effectively? Always follow your doctor’s direction when taking insulin. Some general tips include:

  • Take your insulin at mealtimes. This helps better control your blood sugar.
  • If you inject insulin, inject it in the same area of your body—for example, your belly or thigh. But be sure to vary the specific injection spot each time.
  • Monitor your blood sugar regularly. This will help you and your doctor know how effectively your insulin is working.

How do I store insulin safely? Never leave insulin anywhere that is extremely hot or cold. In general, it is best to store insulin you are not currently using in a refrigerator. Lastly, never use insulin that has passed its expiration date.

Sources: American Diabetes Association; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

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