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Insulin? But I have type 2!

BY KAREN FLANAGAN, MA, RD, CDE

With type 2 diabetes, many people think, "take a pill, watch your diet and all will be well." Right? Then, out of the blue, your doctor mentioned insulin.

Insulin is secreted from a healthy-functioning pancreas in response to food or stress—whenever your body needs to get glucose into your muscle cells. In doing so, it helps keep a healthy level of glucose in your blood. Without a doubt, insulin is the most natural, easiest way to keep your blood sugar in an optimal range.

Still, some physicians don't recommend insulin because they think that their patients might be too scared.

Diabetes is a progressive disease. Over time, your pancreas will make more mistakes, even when you take care of yourself. Actually, 6 years after being diagnosed with diabetes, over 50% of people with type 2 need insulin.1 The better you care for yourself, the healthier you'll be, but your diabetes still wants to win the blood sugar battle. There comes a time when you and your doctor need to fight back with insulin.

Even though insulin is good news for your health, there may be some things you're wondering about:

  • Why do I have to take it in a shot? Insulin is a protein chain. If it were swallowed in a pill, stomach acid would digest it like a piece of cheese. Instead, it's injected through a syringe directly into fatty tissue—anyplace you can pinch an inch—such as your stomach, back of an arm, buttocks, thigh or hip. Today's needles are thin and coated with silicone, so they're barely noticeable and definitely not painful.
  • Are there other ways to get insulin? Some people prefer to use an insulin pen, insulin pump or inhaled insulin. Ask your doctor if one of these might be right for you.
  • Can someone with type 2 diabetes wear an insulin pump? Definitely! Today's insulin pumps are easy to use and safe. They deliver insulin in a way that uses less while still giving you freedom and flexibility in your lifestyle.
  • Why are there so many kinds of insulin? Insulins have different peaking times and work in your body for different lengths of time. These choices allow you and your physician to find what works best for you.
  • Will I get complications from insulin? No. Insulin is a treatment. Out-of-control diabetes is what causes complications.
  • What are the side effects of insulin? Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is the most serious risk of taking insulin. Checking your blood sugar, educating yourself and having a fast-acting carbohydrate nearby are your best defenses.

Just because you are type 2 on insulin doesn't mean you have changed your status to type 1. Now you're simply "insulin requiring" instead of "insulin dependent," and you're also smart.

If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, talk to your healthcare provider. And while you're at it, make sure to thank them for recommending insulin!

Karen Flanagan is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator who previously worked with pump users through Roche Diabetes Care. She has been wearing an insulin pump since 1992.

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1Lingvay I, Legendre JL, Kaloyanova PF, et al. Insulin-based versus triple oral therapy for newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: Which is better? Diabetes Care. 2009;32(10):1789-1795. Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/10/1789.full. Accessed April 27, 2016.

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