Insulin – A Beginner's Guide to The Basics


You just received the news that your doctor is adding insulin to your diabetes treatment plan. The use of insulin to control your diabetes can be confusing and intimidating. It does not have to be. Using insulin is a positive experience because it helps you to manage your diabetes.

The first thing to remember is that insulin is not a punishment in any form. If you are using insulin, it is because insulin is absent from your body, or your body still makes insulin but it is not enough. Sometimes oral meds are no longer working, so insulin is added to your treatment plan. Your doctor will discuss your dosing requirements with you.

Insulin injections are nothing to be afraid of, even for people that are fearful of needles. Modern technology has made the needles so small and thin that the insulin injection is rarely felt. Used correctly in conjunction with your meal plan and exercise, insulin can give you excellent control.

There are many different guides on how to manage an insulin injection, so this topic will not be covered in this guide. The basics of using insulin are simple, and require knowledge of how insulin works which your doctor should explain to you. Insulin use also requires knowledge of insulin delivery systems, and insulin supplies that will help make your life with insulin a breeze.

Insulin delivery

Insulin delivery systems are a matter of need and choice. Insulin users that have insulin pumps as their delivery system have much different guidelines that will not be covered here. The focus of insulin delivery systems for this article will be on syringes, insulin pens, jet injectors and inhaled insulin.

Dosage amount and syringe size

Insulin syringes and needles come in different sizes. The amount of your insulin dose determines the size of the syringe that you will need to use. If you are taking 30 units or less, a 3/10 cc (30 unit) syringe will work. If you are taking 31 to 50 units, 1/2 cc syringe (50 unit) will be needed. If your dose is 51 units or more, a 1 cc (100 unit) syringe will be necessary. The needle sizes vary for each syringe size. Syringes may be purchased from a pharmacy.

Insulin syringes are disposable, and should be discarded after one use. A bio hazardous container such as a sharps container will be needed to hold discarded syringes. These containers can be obtained from some waste disposal services, and may purchased from any pharmacy. Disposal of sharps containers requires special handling. Your doctor, diabetes educator, or pharmacy should be able to tell you where sharps can be disposed of in your area.

Insulin Vials

Liquid insulin comes in vials and insulin pens. Vials are stored in the refrigerator until use, and are discarded after the insulin is used up, or after 28 days, whichever comes first. Vials hold various amounts of insulin depending on the brand. Insulin is drawn up into the syringe from the vial and can be injected into several areas of the body, usually the thigh or abdomen. Most types of insulin require a prescription.

Insulin pens

Insulin pens are a convenient way to administrator insulin. An insulin pen looks like an oversized ink pen, and uses disposable needles. There are two different types of pens. One type is prefilled with 300 units of insulin. The prefilled pen is discarded after the insulin is used up or after 28 days, the same as for vials. The other type uses insulin cartridges, and the cartridges are changed using the same schedule that is used for prefilled pens. Insulin pens are not refrigerated after the first use.

Needles for the insulin pens come in different sizes. Insulin dosages are dialed on the pen in one-half and one unit increments depending on the type of pen used. The result of dosing by pen is fewer dosing errors. Insulin pens are handy, and allow easy dosing for people on the go. Pens are also discreet. It is not recommended that pen needles be used more than once for the same reasons that syringes should not be reused; bacteria and possible infection. Pen needles should be discarded in a sharps container.

Another insulin delivery device that falls into the insulin pen category is called the InnoLet. This device looks like a kitchen timer with a big dial. The InnoLet holds 300 units of insulin and is very handy for people with visual difficulties.

Jet Injectors

Jet injectors release a tiny stream of insulin through the skin by using a mechanism that creates high-pressure air. The injector does not use a needle. After the insulin dose is loaded into the injector, the injector is placed against the skin and a button is pressed to release the insulin into the skin. Jet injectors are not very popular among users due to bruising and other factors.

Inhaled Insulin

Exubera, the only insulin that is inhaled, was approved for use by the FDA in January of 2006. Your doctor will advise you if inhaled insulin is an alternative for you to use to treat your diabetes. Exubera comes packaged as a dry powder in blister packs, and the packs are loaded into an inhaler. The insulin is inhaled into the lungs. This method of insulin delivery has some restrictions that should have been discussed with your doctor.

Diabetes supplies

After you decide which insulin delivery system you will be using, a carrying case will be needed to carry your insulin, meter and other necessary items. A multitude of diabetes products are on the market to accommodate your needs. Choosing the right products will make the time that you spend on diabetes management more productive. The best way to locate diabetes products is to search for them online, or look in diabetes magazines.

It is important for insulin users to carry a meter and glucose tablets at all times. Insulin can cause "lows" which can lead to unconsciousness if not treated promptly. Insulin users also have to test more frequently than non-insulin users.

Now that you have the insulin basics, you should be confident that you can use insulin proficiently and painfully as part of your treatment plan. Discuss with your doctor which insulin delivery method is best for you, and start on the road to better diabetes control.

© Copyright 2007 Patti McMann. All rights reserved.