Insulin questions answered


If you have type 2 diabetes, moving from non-insulin therapies to insulin treatment can seem overwhelming. You may have worries or concerns and some people could feel disappointment that their current treatment has not worked. These are all very normal reactions. It’s important to keep in mind that type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, and moving onto a new treatment does not mean that you haven’t succeeded.

Most people with type 2 diabetes may move onto insulin, and in fact may find that it actually improves flexibility in their lifestyle, allowing them to take better control of their health and feel better.

Meet Gordon, who has type 2 diabetes. Watch his story about his uncertainty starting insulin treatment. Gordon realised that the only big difference it made to his daily life was the improvement to his blood sugar levels.


Insulin doesn't have to slow you down 

Although it takes time to get used to injecting insulin, once you have mastered it, you’ll find that injecting only takes a minute or two, and can be done wherever you go. There’s no need to keep insulin you are using in the fridge all the time; however, it’s best to keep insulin cool and store between 2°C and 8°C (35°F and 47°F). Your disposable pen or an insulin cartridge will last for a maximum of 4 weeks, whether at room temperature (not above 30°C) or in a fridge (2°C to 8°C). Just don’t leave them in a car or any other place where it could get too hot or too cold.

Insulin pens are light and easy to carry. Most even look like an actual pen, so you can put them in a top pocket or handbag discreetly. Alternatively, if you prefer privacy, you can choose to inject your insulin at home.

The main thing to remember is that your insulin therapy is adapted around your lifestyle, not the other way round, and you will still be able to travel and socialise as normal (with a little extra planning). See our tips for fitting type 2 diabetes management around your lifestyle.


Insulin can improve performance in daily life

Taking insulin improves blood sugar control. This in turn has a positive effect on how well you feel, your mood, your concentration and your energy.

40 people with type 2 diabetes were asked how they felt before and after starting insulin treatment



Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar)

Your blood sugar levels are determined by the amount and type of food that you eat and the amount of insulin you inject. Not enough food or too much insulin can cause blood sugar to fall too low. This is called “hypoglycaemia” or “a hypo” or “a low”. Some people worry about having a hypo when they start insulin.

The first thing to remember is that it’s very rare for blood sugar to become dangerously low in people with type 2 diabetes. However, it’s true that some of the symptoms may be frightening, unpleasant or embarrassing. To prevent anxiety, learn to recognise the early warning signs (feeling faint, racing heart, sweating) so that you can deal with the situation quickly. A hypo may be easily treated by consuming something sugary. The exact same applies if you have a hypo in the night that disturbs your sleep. You’ll be told how to recognise and treat a hypo by your doctor or nurse.

At the other end of the spectrum, high blood sugar or hyperglycaemia (a “hyper”) can also cause you to feel unwell. However, again, if you know the warning signs (thirst, hunger, excessive urination) and how to avoid and deal with them you can overcome anxiety.

The positive thing is that being on insulin therapy actually helps you to get more control over blood sugar highs and lows, because if you find that you keep getting hypos or hypers, you can look at making your insulin dose smaller or bigger. If this happens to you, you should discuss it with your doctor or nurse who will help you adjust your dose.


Weight gain

People who begin insulin therapy often put on weight, although the amount of weight gain differs from person to person. Some people may not put on any weight.

Type 2 patient (Ren) picking up potato

So what causes weight gain? Before starting insulin therapy, excess blood sugar is removed from your body in your urine, so you are actually losing calories into the urine.  Too much sugar in the urine means your diabetes is very poorly controlled. Taking insulin will enable your body to absorb sugar, and naturally store the excess sugar you do not need for energy as fat. When this happens, you may find you put on weight even if you eat the same amount of food as you did before. Another reason somebody might gain weight is because some people snack more after starting insulin to avoid low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).

You can avoid putting on weight by:

Taking regular physical exercise – find something you enjoy

Eat a balanced, healthy diet

When you first start insulin, monitor your weight weekly

Monitor blood glucose so you know you don’t have to snack

If you find that your weight is creeping up, don’t worry. Weight can be managed – speak to your doctor, nurse or dietician for advice.


Needle questions

When you start insulin therapy, it will be necessary to get comfortable with needles, for giving yourself insulin and for testing your blood sugar. However, modern needles are tiny, often painless, and some devices even have hidden needles. Find out more about needle concerns in our pens and needles section.


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