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Girl injecting herself with insulin
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What is insulin and what does it do?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, an organ in your body which is part of the digestive system. It is a natural hormone which allows your body to convert glucose into energy. Insulin helps your body take glucose from carbohydrates found in food and drinks for energy, regulates the amount of glucose in the blood and stores energy for future use.

Insulin dependent diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your pancreas may not produce any or not enough insulin. Instead, you need to control your blood glucose levels with an injection or insulin pen.

Type 2 diabetes is different in the sense that is it developed as an adult, most commonly in people in their 40s and over.* People with type 2 diabetes are unable to metabolise glucose (sugar). The insulin their pancreas makes can’t work properly, or the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to support the body.

When you are type 2 diabetic, your body still breaks down the carbohydrates from your food and turns it into glucose. The pancreas will then try to release insulin to convert this into energy, like a non-diabetic body would. However, because this insulin can’t work properly, blood glucose levels keep rising and more insulin is released. As a result, this can subsequently wear the pancreas out, meaning the body makes gradually less insulin. This can then cause even higher blood glucose levels.

Staying in control of your blood sugar is one of the most important parts of managing type 2 diabetes. Although at first you may be able to treat the condition with diabetes medication and healthy lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise and weight loss, some people with type 2 diabetes may eventually require insulin injections.

Carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index can affect your blood sugar level; including the likes of white bread, sugary drinks, white rice and potatoes. Read more about the glycaemic index and diabetes here.

Types of insulin

There are many types of insulin that could be prescribed by your doctor to suit your personal needs. The types of insulin range from rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting and long-acting, as well as mixed.** You may be instructed to take them at different times, such as before, after or with food, so it’s really important to keep track of your timings to ensure you are controlling your insulin and blood glucose levels as best you can.

Rapid-acting is usually taken before your regular meal to protect your glucose levels from rising while eating.

Short-acting is usually taken before your regular meal to protect your glucose levels from rising while eating.

Intermediate-acting is also known as background insulin or basal insulin. This means it works throughout the day.It is often combined with rapid-acting or short-acting insulin.

Long acting is slower than intermediate insulin, but very similar in how your body processes it. It is often combined with rapid-acting or short-acting insulin.

Insulin pens

Insulin pens have become a popular solution for diabetics in the UK, as they are a modern and easy way to keep on top of your insulin intake on the go. They require pre-filled insulin cartridges; some are replaceable and some must be thrown away after use. Insulin pens are simple to use and often have replaceable pen needles, which are very small. At LloydsPharmacy, we sell a range of colourful insulin wallets that are a handy way to keep all your insulin essentials together. Some also have a temperature control, to keep your insulin cool and safe for a continuous period.

Insulin injections

If you have diabetes, you may be prescribed insulin injections. The single-use needles are very thin as they only need to be injected into the skin, rather than a vein. Your doctor or nurse will explain how to inject your insulin, so you are confident in taking care of your levels day-to-day. After you have used your insulin injection, you will need to dispose of it safely in a sharps bin or using a needle clipper.

How does an insulin pump work?

Insulin pumps give you insulin regularly throughout the day. Prescribed for type 1 diabetes, it is a small battery operated device that is attached to you with a small tube and band around your body. Depending on the pump, you can keep it in your pocket, belt or under clothing with easy access to the electronic controls. Some will even have extra features, such as Bluetooth.

What is sliding scale insulin?

If you have diabetes, you might hear medical professionals mention sliding scale insulin. In short, it is where a diabetic person’s pre-meal or evening insulin dose is increased, taking into account a person’s pre-defined blood glucose levels and ranges.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance happens when people with type 2 diabetes respond abnormally to the insulin produced. And so the body is ineffective with the insulin produced. As a result, this means that unused glucose can build up in your bloodstream causing high blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance doesn’t necessarily occur when you are overweight, but holding too much fat around your stomach is believed to be a contributory factor. It is good to keep a track of a healthy waist measurement and body fat percentage if you are looking to decrease your your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.