When you start taking insulin, you may be concerned about its impact on your daily life. But insulin treatment is easier to manage if you keep some simple thoughts in mind.

Taking Insulin Doesn't Mean You've Failed at Managing Your Diabetes

Nora Saul, RD, a nutrition manager with the Joslin Diabetes Centers in Boston, says she often hears patients say, "I'm eating better and more healthfully. So why am I being put on insulin?"

Getting put on insulin doesn't mean you’ve failed at keeping diabetes in check.

When you have type 2 diabetes, over time, your body may make less and less insulin. So eventually you’ll need to get insulin through injections.

"That doesn't mean it's your fault," Saul says. "By about 10 or 15 years of living with diabetes, most people are tending toward insulin. This is a way that you can get your blood sugars back under control and reduce the possibility of complications."

Giving Yourself Insulin Shots Doesn't Have to Hurt

Some people with diabetes say that early on, they were concerned that insulin shots would be painful. But they were soon put at ease.

"You usually give yourself a shot on your stomach or your thighs, and it's not that sensitive," says Tammy Williams, a North Carolina children's librarian with type 2 diabetes. "I actually think the finger prick when you test your blood sugar hurts much more, because your fingers are more sensitive."

If the initial prick bothers you, Williams has learned a trick from going to the dentist.

"Jiggle your skin just a bit as you put the needle in," she says. "My dentist would do this when giving me Novocain, and it made the shot much less painful."

If you're using a pen syringe, take it easy.

"Sometimes the syringes stick a little and you have to force them a bit, and you don't realize you're pushing so hard," she says. "I used to think, 'Hey, where'd I get that bruise on my leg from?' Now I hold onto the bottom of the syringe as I press down so I don't push too hard."

Transporting Insulin Is Easy

For a long time, Williams thought she had to keep all her insulin refrigerated, even the vial she was using. But then she found out that only the extra vials of insulin have to be refrigerated.

"You can keep your open vial at room temperature. Just don't let it get excessively hot," Williams says. "That was nice to realize. Now when I go to the yarn store, I just stick the vial and syringe into my pocketbook, or I keep it at the side of my desk when I'm working on the computer so I don't have to run to the refrigerator."

Saul says that even going out to dinner with your insulin is easier these days.

"With the insulin pens we have now, injecting is very easy and can even be discreetly done at the dinner table."

Flying isn’t a problem, either, Saul says. "The TSA has become educated about this subject."

Practice Good Insulin Management

Familiarize yourself with things like:

  • When you need to take your insulin
  • When it will start to work
  • What its peak times are
  • How long one dose will last

"You need to understand the action time of your insulin," Saul explains. "For example, rapid-acting insulins start acting in about 10 to 15 minutes. They peak in about 2 hours, and last about 4 hours in the body.

“So it's important not to take additional injections to correct your blood sugar during that time."

As long as your insulin is refrigerated, it will last a long time. Once you've taken it out of the fridge and opened it, it has a 30-day shelf life. It's important to note the date of first use on the vial.

Track Your Blood Sugar Carefully

"Keep a regular record of your blood sugar when on insulin," Saul says. "This can help you manage both your blood sugars and the insulin you're taking. You'll see patterns and trends."

For example, say you're on a once-a-day dose of long-acting insulin, and you want to get your morning sugar level under 130.

"Check it in the morning," Saul says.

If you're not at your goal yet and you're not having high blood sugar episodes, your dose may need to be increased.

Talk with your doctor or diabetes educator. Tracking and monitoring your sugars this way gives you authority over your own care.

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