Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the beta cells of the pancreas.
It allows glucose to enter the body’s cells where it is used for energy.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin.
The cells that produce insulin have been destroyed by an autoimmune response.
Insulin replacement by daily injections or via an insulin pump is essential.
Type 2 diabetes & insulin
People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, but the insulin does not work as effectively as it needs to. This is known as insulin resistance.
To compensate, the body makes more insulin but eventually cannot make enough to keep the balance correct.
Lifestyle changes such as physical activity and healthy eating can delay the need for tablets and/or insulin to stabilise blood glucose levels.
When insulin is required, it is important to understand that this is just the natural progression of the condition.
Your health care team will work with you to discuss and ensure the right insulin is being used for you.
Types of insulin
There are several types of insulin including:
- Fast-acting insulin which starts to work from 1 to 20 minutes. You must eat immediately after injecting this insulin.
- Short-acting insulin which begins to work within half an hour, so you need to inject half an hour before eating.
- Intermediate-acting insulin begins to work about 1 and a half hours after injecting.
- Mixed insulin contains pre-mixed combinations of either a fast-acting or a short-acting insulin and an intermediate-acting insulin. This makes injecting easier by giving two types of insulin in one injection.
- Long-acting insulin has no pronounced peak and lasts for up to 24 hours.
Insulin can cause Hypoglycaemia, so it’s important to monitor blood glucose levels.
Insulin cannot be taken by mouth as it’s destroyed by the digestive chemicals in the stomach.
With modern technology, injecting insulin has become easier and almost painless with a greater choice of devices.
Insulin pens make injecting simpler and more convenient.
Reusable insulin pens are used with insertable 3ml insulin cartridges. Each cartridge contains 300 units of insulin. Insulin pens are made to fit specific brands of insulin, which cannot be interchanged.
Disposable insulin pens are also available, which come prefilled with insulin and are discarded when empty.
Pen needles can be used with any brand of pen and come in several different lengths. 4mm needles are recommended. The shorter needle length helps to reduce the chance of injecting the insulin into a muscle (this affects how quickly the insulin is absorbed). It also helps to reduce discomfort.
Insulin pumps are a device that are mainly used for people with type 1 diabetes.
Insulin pumps are small battery-operated devices that hold a reservoir of insulin. They are worn 24 hours a day.
The pump is programmed to deliver insulin into the body through thin plastic tubing known as the infusion set.
The infusion set has a flexible cannula that is inserted just below the skin where it stays in place for two to three days.
Whenever food is eaten the pump is programmed to deliver a surge of insulin into the body similar to those people without diabetes. Between meals a small and steady rate of insulin is delivered.
The insulin pump is not suitable for everyone. If you’re considering using one, you must discuss it with your doctor or Credentialled Diabetes Educator.
Click here for more information about programs to access insulin pump therapy https://www.jdrf.org.au/type-1-diabetes/insulin-pump-program
Disposing of sharps appropriately is very important once insulin usage is commenced. Used syringes, pen needles and lancets must be disposed of in an Australian Safety Standards-approved sharps container which is puncture proof and has a secure lid. These containers are usually yellow and are available at Diabetes SA. Diabetes SA provides a free service for members to dispose of sharps safely as do many pharmacies or councils.
Insulin for Life
People in many developing countries are unable to access insulin and strips, which affects their health and survival.
If you no longer need unopened and in-date insulin (with at least three months to use-by date) and test strips, please consider donating them to Insulin for Life.
These are then donated overseas following specific requests from recognised organisations and with an agreed protocol.