If you've been prescribed insulin -- a medicine used to treat diabetes -- you shouldn't consider leaving your doctor's office without asking how to take it, what side effects it might have, and how it will affect your diabetes.
Here is a list of important questions to ask your doctor before you start taking insulin:
What type of insulin do I need?
Insulin comes in four basic forms:
Rapid-acting insulin starts working within a few minutes after injection, but its effects only last for a couple of hours.
Regular- or short-acting insulin takes about 30 minutes to work and lasts for 3 to 6 hours.
Intermediate-acting insulin takes 2 to 4 hours to work, and its effects can last for up to 18 hours.
Long-acting insulin takes 6 to 10 hours to reach the bloodstream, but it can keep working for an entire day.
Ask your doctor which of these insulin forms will work best with your diabetes type and blood sugar level.
Which insulin delivery method should I choose?
To inject insulin, you can use a syringe, pen, or pump. There is also a needle-free option called a jet injector. Discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of each method. Pens are easiest to use, pumps deliver insulin continuously, and syringes are the least expensive.
The decision may come down to cost, so find out which method your insurance will cover. If you don't have insurance or your plan won't pay for the type of insulin delivery method you prefer, ask your doctor about programs that can help you cover the cost.
How many times do I need to inject insulin each day?
People with type 1 diabetes may need up to three or four injections daily. Those with type 2 diabetes may need just one shot of insulin a day, possibly increasing to three or four injections.
Find out how many times a day you'll need to inject, and how much insulin to inject in each dose. If you're using an insulin pump, ask your doctor when you'll need to give yourself an extra injection (bolus).
When should I take my insulin?
How often you take insulin depends on several factors, including:
The type of insulin you use (fast-acting, premixed, etc.)
How much and what type of food you eat
How much exercise you get
Other health conditions you have
The type of insulin delivery system you use
Your doctor may want you to take insulin a half-hour before meals, so it's available when sugar from food enters your bloodstream. Find out exactly when during the day you need to take each of your injections, and what to do if you forget to give yourself an injection.
Where should I inject the insulin?
There are some factors to consider when deciding where to inject. Most people select the abdomen since it’s an easily accessible region. Your insulin shot will work fastest if you inject it into the stomach (be sure to stay at least 2 inches from the belly button). But you can also inject insulin into your arms, thighs, or buttocks. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator to show you the right way to inject, including how to keep your needle and skin clean to prevent infections. Also learn how to rotate the injection site so you don't develop hard, fatty deposits under the skin from repeated injections.
How will insulin interact with other medicines I'm taking?
Low blood sugars caused by insulin can be intensified by some medications. Tell your doctor all of the medicines you're taking -- even drugs you bought without a prescription.
What can I eat while taking insulin?
Ask your doctor for dietary recommendations to help your insulin work most effectively. Find out how much food to eat at each meal, which types of foods are best for you to eat, whether you need to have snacks, and at what times to eat. If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor whether you can continue to drink while taking insulin, and if so, how much alcohol is safe to drink.
What is my target blood sugar level?
Ask your doctor how often you need to check your blood sugar level using your blood glucose meter. Find out your target blood sugar range before and after meals, as well as at bedtime. For most people with diabetes, the targets are:
70 to 130 mg/dL before meals
Less than 180 mg/dL 1 to 2 hours after the start of a meal
Ask what to do if your blood sugar isn't staying within range, and how often you need to have your A1C level tested.
What side effects could I have from the insulin?
Insulin can have side effects, most commonly low blood sugar and weight gain. Ask your doctor what side effects you might have, and what to do if you experience them.
How should I store my insulin?
Most insulin manufacturers recommend storing insulin in the refrigerator, but injecting cold insulin can be uncomfortable. Make sure it’s at room temperature before injecting. Ask your doctor whether to store your insulin in the fridge or at room temperature. Also find out how long your insulin will last, and how to tell if it has gone bad.
Can I reuse syringes?
Reusing syringes can lower your costs. Ask your doctor whether you can safely reuse your syringes, and how to keep them clean to prevent infection. If you throw out your syringes after each use, learn how to safely dispose of them.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask You
You won't be the only one asking questions at your visit. Your doctor may also ask a few questions of you, including:
1.How are you feeling while taking your insulin?
2. Are you having any side effects?
3. How are you responding to your insulin dose? Are you having any problems with high or low blood sugar?
4. Have you had any trouble using your insulin syringe, pen, or pump?
5. Do you know how to store and dispose of your used syringes/needles?
Make the most of the time you have with your doctor. Keep a record of your questions so that you can address any insulin-related concerns as they arise. Your doctor can help monitor your progress so that you can successfully manage your diabetes.