Insulin injection – FAQs

Frequently asked questions about insulin injection

Many people with diabetes have concerns or feel anxious about insulin injections. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Here are some common questions people ask about insulin injection.

Is insulin a dangerous medicine?

Insulin is a hormone naturally produced in your body. Taking insulin by injection is designed to try to mimic the way your body would produce its own insulin. Insulin injection means you are just topping it up to make up for what your body can’t produce. Read more about starting insulin.

It is possible to take insulin as a tablet?

Insulin cannot be taken as a tablet, because when it is, it gets broken down in your gut and stops working. Read more about insulin.

Is insulin sourced from animals?

There is no animal-derived insulin available in New Zealand. Until the 1980s, insulin derived from the pancreases of cows and pigs was the only type of insulin available for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes. However, these days insulin is produced by gene technology. This involves scientists inserting a human gene into the genetic material of bacteria which then produce human insulin.  

Does having insulin injection mean I have ‘failed’ at controlling my diabetes?

Needing insulin is not your ‘fault’, and you have not ‘failed’ in any way. In type 1 diabetes, your pancreas makes little or no insulin, so you need insulin injection to replace the insulin your body isn't able to make. With type 2 diabetes, your bodies ability to produce insulin slowing gets worse over time. This is because the cells that produce insulin in your pancreas continue to be damaged or die and your body is less able to make enough insulin to balance the blood glucose. For this reason, you may need to also start taking insulin injections. 

Insulin injections are a powerful and effective treatment for managing blood glucose levels. Insulin helps improve your long-term health. Keeping blood glucose levels within your target range reduces your risk of long-term complications.

Doesn’t taking insulin cause low blood sugar, which can be dangerous?

When you learn how to take insulin, you will also learn how to prevent low blood sugar, how to recognise the signs and what to do if it happens. Read more about low blood glucose

Does insulin cause weight gain?

It is true that some people taking insulin gain weight and if that worries you, there are ways to help prevent weight gain. Talk to your doctor or specialist diabetes nurse about your concerns. 

Are insulin injections painful?

Insulin needles are so short and fine that nearly everyone finds that their insulin injections are far more comfortable than finger pricks. Insulin injections go just under your skin and not into a vein. Before starting insulin, your specialist diabetes nurse will show you how to inject insulin properly and some simple techniques to help you reduce the pain such as changing the injection sites and not reusing needles. Read more about injecting insulin.

Will taking insulin affect my ability to drive?

If your diabetes is well controlled, you can drive a private car safely. If you sometimes experience hypos without warning signs (known as hypoglycaemia unawareness), it may be unwise for you to drive. You should discuss this with your health practitioner or specialist diabetes nurse. Read more about diabetes and driving.

Do I still need to eat healthier foods and keep physically active if I am taking insulin?

Yes. It is important to still maintain a healthy lifestyle when taking insulin. Eating a healthy diet and exercising also helps to control your blood sugar levels, your weight and has other health benefits. 

What are the pros and cons of starting insulin?

While people with type 1 diabetes need to have insulin injections, those with type 2 diabetes are confronted with the decision about whether to start insulin or remain on diabetes tablets. It's important to discuss this with your doctor, here are some things to think about.

Starting insulin
Pros
  • My diabetes will be better controlled
  • I can have more control over my medication
  • My health will be better for the kids
  • It's a serious step which makes me think about how I need to look after myself better
  • I'll get over my fear of needles
Cons
  • Needles!! I feel scared
  • What if I mess up the dose?
  • I'm worried the side effects of the medication will be worse
  • It involves change, which I don't like
Staying on my diabetes tablets 
Pros
  • My diabetes isn't well controlled
  • I'm worried about complications from my diabetes not being controlled
Cons
  • I'm familiar with my current tablets
  • They're easy to take (when I remember)

References

  1. Insulin initiation in type 2 diabetes Goodfellow Symposium 2019
  2. Living with diabetes American College of Physicians
Credits: Sandra Ponen, pharmacist. Reviewed By: Editorial team Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2020