The Differences Between Insulin Products

insulin pumpInsulin therapy is vitally important, not just for those with type one diabetes but also for many with type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, the goal of insulin therapy is to maintain blood sugar levels within a particular target range; insulin is administered in the fat under the skin using either an insulin syringe, insulin pen, or an insulin pump. When considering the type of insulin you should be taking, a lot of factors come into play, including the type of diabetes you have, how much your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day, and your lifestyle. A quick guide to insulin products and their differences can help many managing the disease to better understand their choices, and speak with their doctor about which of the options are best for them.

Each insulin type is characterized by onset—how long it takes to begin working, peak, or when it’s working the most, and duration, or how long it lasts. Rapid acting insulin, for example, has an onset of 15 minutes and a peak of 30 to 90 minutes from administration. It lasts for 3 to 5 hours in the body. Compare that with short-acting insulin, which has a 30-60 minute onset, peaking at 2 to 4 hours from administration before working its way out of the system at about 5 to 8 hours. Another option that some diabetics use is intermediate-acting insulin, which has an onset time of one to three hours, a peak at about 8 hours and a duration of 12 to 16 hours in the body. Finally, long-acting insulin takes an hour for onset, with no clear peak, and lasts in the body for 20 to 26 hours.

While these categories are relatively straightforward, there are other options that a doctor may recommend as well; in some cases, pre-mixed insulin, which contains a combination of specific proportions of intermediate-acting and short or rapid-acting insulin in one bottle or pen are a good option for blood sugar regulation. In emergency situations, it is possible occasionally to substitute or switch between products, rather than not taking insulin at all, but it is very, very important to do so with the help of a pharmacist or doctor—and to monitor your blood sugar levels very carefully. If medical supervision is not possible, the FDA has guidelines for the safest ways to temporarily switch. For example, rapid-acting insulin products have a faster onset than short-acting insulin, which means that they should be injected no more than 15 minutes before the start of a meal to avoid dangerously low blood glucose levels. The most important consideration in switching insulin products—whether it is due to an emergency and a lack of your usual product, or a change recommended by your physician—is to make sure that you are monitoring your levels carefully to make sure you’re not endangering yourself.

In addition to the different kinds of insulin, there are many different administration methods. Insulin pens come pre-loaded with doses of insulin and a disposable needle that is protected by a cap. Many individuals prefer these products because they are more convenient than filling a standard insulin syringe. Insulin pen needles are also in some cases smaller and more unobtrusive than the standard. Of course, many diabetics also employ a 1cc insulin syringe along with supplies of the insulin they are prescribed, for a variety of reasons. Finally, some diabetics use an insulin pump to ensure that they are getting the correct dosages at the correct time. Your medical provider can advise you as to what option would be the best for your needs, and from there you can approach any of the multiple diabetic supply sources that exist online or in physical locations.

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