Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which controls blood glucose levels. It is released into the bloodstream to help sugar (glucose) move from the blood into your body cells where it is used as fuel, e.g. to help muscles contract, or brain cells ‘think’.
Your body needs exactly the right amount of glucose to work properly and the balance of insulin and glucose needs to be managed carefully. In simple terms, when your insulin level goes up, your blood glucose level goes down.
In people who have type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This means that no insulin is produced in the body and so manufactured insulin is given, either with several injections a day or with an insulin pump to replace the insulin.
Insulin cannot be given as tablets because the digestive system would break down the insulin in the stomach before it could start working.
Different types of insulin therapy are available and the type you use will depend on the frequency of injections and type of insulin used and whether you take it by injection or pump. How you take your insulin will depend on what suits your age, lifestyle and what you want to do. It is important to know that you will likely change how you take your insulin as you go through different life and diabetes stages. Please consult your doctor about any changes to your insulin regimen ir dosing.
Basal insulin is needed to replace the insulin that is normally produced as a constant or 'background' insulin. this controls your blood glucose levels between meals and overnight. If you inject insulin, this is usually intermediate- or long-acting insulin that works over several or many hours to consistently reduce blood glucose. If you use an insulin pump, the insulin will be rapid- or fast-acting insulin that is infused at a steady rate through 24 hours.
In addition to your background insulin, you’ll need to administer additional short bursts of insulin, or ‘mealtime’ doses of insulin before your meals to deal with the spikes of glucose that are produced at mealtimes. This is usually short- or rapid-acting insulin that works quickly to reduce blood glucose.
Mealtime insulin is given in addition to long-acting insulin, not instead of it. The two together are sometimes called “basal-bolus insulin”.
If you are using an insulin pump, the pump gives a small amount of short- or rapid-acting insulin every hour to be the “basal” insulin and then you can use the pump to give mealtime insulin; equivalent to a "basal-bolus" regimen.
Your doctor or nurse can discuss diabetes treatment with you, advise on treatment delivery and keep you up to date with diabetes treatment developments.
Insulin is administered either by injection beneath the skin or by an infusion pump.
Insulin injections are administered using insulin pens, which are available in a range of pens and needles depending on your requirements. These have been designed to be ultra-discreet, easy to use, and virtually pain-free.
They can be pre-filled and disposable, or refillable and durable. Some have a memory function and/or require only a very small pressure to operate them, making them suitable for a range of users, including people who may struggle to manage injections because of poor memory, eyesight, or manual dexterity.
Find out more about the pens and needles available
Insulin pumps are small portable gadgets that provide your body with mealtime insulin throughout the day. This avoids the need for multiple injections, although they do need to be placed at a new site on the body every few days.
Find out more about insulin pumps