Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Insulin

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What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps keep blood sugar levels normal. Insulin helps your body take sugar out of your blood and use it for energy. You may need to take insulin because your pancreas is not making enough.

What are the different types of insulin?

Several types of insulin are used to lower blood sugar. Some types of insulin are clear and some are cloudy. Each type of insulin has a different onset, peak response, and duration. The onset is how soon the insulin starts to work in the blood. The peak response is when the insulin has the greatest effect on blood sugar levels. The duration is how long the insulin lasts. Ask your caregiver for more information on the type of insulin you need, how often to take it, and how to use it. Common types are:

  • Rapid-acting or regular insulin: This is used to lower blood sugar after eating a meal.

  • Intermediate or long-acting insulin: This lasts longer and is used to lower blood sugar throughout the day and night.

What will my insulin treatment plan be?

You may need 1 type of insulin or a combination of 2 or more types. Your caregiver will work with you to find the treatment plan that works best. Your insulin needs may change because of illness, stress, medicines, diet changes, or physical activity. You may need to check your blood sugar level at least 3 times each day. Ask what your blood sugar levels should be before and after you eat. Write down your results and show them to your caregiver. He may use the results to make changes to your medicine, food, or exercise schedules.

How is insulin measured and given?

Insulin is measured in units. U100 is the most common type of insulin. It has 100 units of insulin in 1 mL of solution. U500 insulin has 500 units of insulin in 1 mL. Insulin is usually given in the following ways:

  • Syringes: Most people take insulin by injecting it under the skin with a syringe. Use the correct size insulin syringe to make sure you get the right dose of insulin. For example, you must inject U100 insulin with U100 syringes. A different syringe is needed for U500 insulin. Your caregiver or pharmacist will help you find the right size syringe.

  • Spring-loaded syringe holders: These are used to hide the syringe needle so that you will not see the needle going into the skin. To inject the insulin, you press a button to insert the needle automatically.

  • Insulin pens: An insulin pen looks like a pen. It is made up of a cartridge of insulin and a disposable needle. There are reusable and disposable types of pens.

  • Insulin pump: This is a small computerized device that can be worn on a belt or in a pocket. The pump gives a dose of insulin after meals. The pump also gives a small amount of insulin throughout the day and night to keep blood sugar levels normal. The insulin is given through a small tube called a catheter, which is placed in the skin through a small needle. The catheter is taped to the skin to keep it in place.

How should I store insulin?

Follow the storage directions on the label or package insert that came with the insulin. If insulin has been frozen or exposed to very warm temperatures (above 85° F), throw it away.

  • Unopened insulin: It is best to store unopened insulin in the refrigerator. Insulin bottles, cartridges, or disposable pens that have been kept in the refrigerator are good until the expiration date. Unopened insulin bottles can also be kept at room temperature if you cannot keep them refrigerated. Keep the insulin in a cool, dry place away from direct heat and sunlight.

  • Opened insulin: Read the label to learn how long you can use your insulin once it has been opened.

    • Insulin bottles: Store opened insulin bottles in the refrigerator or in a cool, dry place at room temperature. Injecting cold insulin may make the injection more painful or cause irritation at the injection site.

    • Insulin pens: Store insulin pens that you are currently using at room temperature only . Ask your caregiver how long you can use the insulin pen once you have opened it. Keep the insulin pen away from direct heat and sunlight when at room temperature. Do not store pens with the disposable needle attached.

  • Traveling with insulin: Always protect insulin from direct sunlight when you are traveling. Keep the insulin in a cool pack to make sure the temperature of the insulin stays below 86° F (30° C).

What else can I do to use insulin safely?

  • Look at the insulin before you use it: Do not use your insulin if there are any changes to it. Look for clumps and color changes. Cloudy insulin that has small, white, hard particles that will not mix should be thrown away. Clear insulin should be thrown away if it is cloudy.

  • Extra bottles of insulin: Look at the expiration date. Use the insulin with the closest expiration date first.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.