When you’re diagnosed with a disease like diabetes, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and a little depressed. There’s much to learn, many changes to make, and a lot of information to absorb quickly to make sure you stay on top of things and get your health under control.

Don’t be afraid to ask simple questions. It’s your health, and you need to know. Here’s just a few of those questions to get you started.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It is considered a peptide hormone, which means that the molecules of insulin are bound together by peptides, rather than proteins, and are water-soluble. This kind of hormone effects the endocrine system, which involves the glands that secrete hormones into the circulatory system.

Insulin medication is a man-made form of insulin, used to treat diabetes. 

What Does Insulin Do?

Insulin is the hormone that regulates the metabolic process that converts glucose, or sugar, to proper fuel for energy in the body. Insulin drops the levels of sugar in the blood, and helps the endocrine system work properly.

When glucose builds up in the blood stream, multiple systems fail, and severe health issues result, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Loss of lower limbs
  • Skin complications
  • Blindness
  • Neuropathy
  • Ketoacidosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Gastroparesis
  • Diabetic coma, sometimes leading to death

Insulin therapy, which is the general term for the course of treatment involving insulin, is used to help the body regulate blood sugar levels in someone with diabetes. Not all patients with diabetes need insulin, but those who do must receive regular doses to maintain proper levels and remain healthy.

Insulin may be used to treat either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, as well as gestational diabetes, and various complications of diabetes. It may also be used in partnership with glucose for someone with high potassium levels in the blood.

What is Insulin Dependent Diabetes?

Someone who has insulin dependent diabetes must receive insulin treatment. Without the insulin, that person’s health will drastically deteriorate, and he or she will have permanent or fatal complications from diabetes. All patients with Type 1 diabetes are insulin dependent.

How is Insulin Administered?

There are three ways with which insulin can be given.

1. Injection

One of the more familiar methods for delivery of insulin is an injection given under the skin of the patient with insulin dependent diabetes. 

The insulin must be injected directly into the fatty tissue on the back of the patient’s arms, stomach, or thighs. If you hit muscle, the injection of insulin will cause a burning sensation.

2. Inhalation

Generally, insulin that is inhaled is used prior to mealtimes in which a patient with insulin dependent diabetes will be consuming carbohydrates. Inhaling the insulin allows the insulin to hit your system in fifteen to twenty minutes, and “covers” the system while carbohydrates are introduced, and blood sugar levels would otherwise spike.

Inhaled insulin is not common for patients with Type 1 diabetes. But if your doctor recommends it, it must be accompanied by long lasting insulin if the patient has Type 1 diabetes.

3. Insulin Pump

The third method of receiving insulin is through an insulin pump, or diabetic pump. This method of delivery is a computerized pump that contains the insulin and attaches to the body through a catheter. 

The insulin is delivered via the catheter, which is connected to a cannula that is placed in the layer of fat just under your skin. This is usually in the stomach area.

Insulin Side Effects

As with all medications, there are some side effects to being treated with insulin. The most common side effects include:

  • Low blood sugar – when the insulin overcompensates
  • Sore insulin injection sites – sometimes there can be redness, pain, and irritation
  • Seizures
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Hunger
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lower blood potassium levels
  • Leg discomfort
  • Tremors
  • Blurred vision
  • Drug interactions
  • Injection site calluses that build up over time and cause the insulin to not spread through your system as it should. Work on constantly changing your injection sites!

Before you begin any kind of treatment, even necessary ones like insulin, be sure to talk to your doctor about the common and not-so-common side effects. 

Keep a close eye on your health and take notes of anything unusual once you begin a new therapy. The dose may need adjustment, or a different brand or variety of the type of insulin you’ve been prescribed may need to change.

You know your body, so trust your instincts and talk to your doctor about any changes. Call immediately to ask if you should keep on the therapy regimen, or if you should come in for an urgent therapy change.

Life with Diabetes and Insulin

Life with diabetes doesn’t have to be that different from the days before you needed insulin therapy. 

There are some changes you’ll have to make, including an altered diet and potentially an increase in exercise, but if you keep track of your health, and follow the doctor’s directions, you can live normally. Millions the world over do it every day, and so can you.

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