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What’s Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that controls the blood sugar levels by using the glucose gotten from carbohydrates eaten for energy or storage of glucose for future use. It also regulates the blood sugar level so it is not too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). Insulin hormone is produced by the pancreas. There are some cells in the body that cannot absorb sugar directly, so the cells in the pancreas are signaled to release insulin into the bloodstream; it then attaches itself to the cells so sugar absorption from the bloodstream by the cells can take place.

Insulin can help store glucose in the liver and it releases it when the blood sugar level of the body is low, so it becomes a problem when the body is unable to produce the adequate amount of insulin it needs to function or if one’s cells are insulin resistant. Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia can lead to health complications that may be dangerous to one’s wellbeing. One can also have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes if the body does not secrete enough insulin to circulate glucose to all the body cells.

Types of Insulin

Rapid-Acting Insulin

This is a synthetic insulin that a diabetic patient may need to help reduce the rise in blood sugar level one may experience after eating. Type 2 diabetes patients usually use rapid-acting insulin because it is fast in controlling the blood sugar level by stimulating the body cells, signaling them to absorb glucose from the bloodstream so it does not get too high. Rapid-acting insulin works within 20 minutes, peaks within 30 to 90 minutes and lasts for about 4 hours, and it is usually administered before a meal and can be used with a long-acting insulin.

Apidra (insulin glulisine), Afrezza (inhaled human insulin), Humalog (insulin lispro), Novolog (insulin aspart) and Fiasp (insulin aspart) are some rapid-acting insulin one can use, depending on the type of diabetes one has, and the doctor’s recommendation.

Short-Acting Insulin

Short-acting insulin is a type of insulin that imitates normal insulin release after meals. It is aimed at acting like regular human insulin which delays for about 30 minutes before the cells in the body absorb it; it also peaks in about 4 hours (the highest point of effectiveness). Short-acting insulin can last for up to 6 hours, and is usually administered before a meal. It can also be used with a long-acting insulin. Humulin R and Novolin R are short-acting insulin injections one can use.

Intermediate-Acting Insulin

Intermediate-acting insulin can also be called Neutral Protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin or Isophane. This insulin delays absorption into the cells but prolongs its effectiveness and action. When administered, it may take up to 2 hours before it starts to work. It peaks in about 8 hours, and it can last one for up to 18 hours. This provides the body with the right amount of insulin it needs for glycemic control, but persons who use this insulin may be at a risk of having hypoglycemia, especially nighttime hypoglycemia. Humulin N and Novolin N are intermediate-acting insulin injections one can use.

Long-Acting Insulin

This type of insulin takes quite long to start working, but, when administered, can last for up to 24 hours. Long-acting insulins do not peak like the other types of insulin and it usually takes up to 4 hours to seep into the bloodstream. Long-acting insulin can also be referred to as basal or background insulin because it regulates the blood sugar level for the whole day. Insulin glargine (Lactus), insulin detemir (Levemir), insulin glargine (Toujeo), insulin degludec (Tresiba) and insulin glargine (Basaglar) are long-acting insulin one can use.

Premixed Insulin

Premixed insulins are insulins that come in already mixed formulations. They contain different types of insulin that have different onsets, peaks, and duration which help regulate the blood sugar level of the patient. Premixed insulin reduces the number of injections one would normally need if it was not premixed, so it is more preferred than the regular insulin. They are, however, not suitable for persons who have intense insulin regimens because there may be a need to change insulin regimen if the patient experiences weight loss or gain, increased stress level or illness.

Humalog Mix 50/50, Humalog 75/25, Humulin 70/30, Novolin 70/30 and Novolog 70/30 insulin are premixed insulins one may use.

Administering Insulin

Needle and Syringe

This is the most common way of administering insulin. One would insert the needle into the vial of insulin, take the recommended dose from the vial and inject it right into the tissue beneath the skin.

Syringe Magnifier

This is the most suitable for people who have poor vision. A syringe magnifier has needle guides that help keep the syringe steady at the point of injection. Some brands of syringe magnifiers enlarge the numbers on the syringe, which helps patients read the dosage properly.

Syringe-Filling Device

This is a device that makes filling the syringe easier. It has a button that fills the syringe up with appropriate dosage with a simple click and can also mix two different types of insulin.

Insulin Pen

This is a device that looks like a pen, only that it is large and has a needle that dispenses insulin on the end instead of ink like normal pens. Insulin pens have a built-in insulin cartridge that is filled beforehand with insulin which is set to have the appropriate dose. One only needs to press the plunger and the insulin is injected into the body.

Jet Injector

A jet injector does not need a needle to deposit insulin into the body; it makes use of high pressure to dispense insulin by sending a fine spray of insulin through the skin. The jet injector is not quite favored among people with diabetes because some claim it is more painful than needles.

Insulin Pump

This device is inserted in the skin in the abdomen area, and it pumps insulin into the body all day long, thereby, relieving the patient the stress of injecting themselves with insulin regularly. It is usually programmed to deliver insulin to the body when needed. It may, however, take a while to master the art of using an insulin pump properly.

Injection Ports

Injection ports have a set of tubing that is also used in an insulin pump, the only difference is that one can use it without the pump. The catheter can stay under the skin after insertion for a few days. This device can spare the patient multiple skin punctures due to the ability of the catheter to stay inserted for a few days. The insulin is usually injected through the subcutaneous infusion (the tissue under the skin) instead of injecting the skin directly.

Pump Patch

This device is a new innovation that can be attached to the skin directly. They are easier to use than big pumps.

Side Effects of Insulin

There are some side effects persons who use insulin may experience. Some people may experience swelling in the arms and legs, weight gain and hypoglycemia which may cause one to experience dizziness, sweating, shakiness, increased hunger, fast heart rate, confusion, blurred vision, tingling sensation in the hands, feet, tongue or lips, slurred speech, anxiety, and mood swings. Some people may experience redness, itching, and swelling as a result of injection site reactions. Reduction in blood volume is a side effect people who use insulin may have, and the symptoms include sleepiness, impatience, anger, delirium, headache, fatigue, lack of coordination, nightmares, seizures, and loss of consciousness. They may also develop hypokalemia (low blood potassium) and manifest symptoms such as muscle cramps, weakness, tiredness, severe respiratory problems, constipation, and severe heart rhythm problems.

Final Words…

Insulin is an important hormone that the pancreas naturally produces to regulate the blood glucose level. There are, however, situations when the pancreas is unable to produce adequate amounts to control the sugar level in the blood or the inability of insulin produced to be effective. Then, there are synthetic insulins that can be administered at intervals to regulate the blood sugar level. It is, however, advisable to consult a doctor to know the type of insulin one would require.