Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin: What to Expect

Diabetes

Whether you’ve been newly diagnosed or have been living with type 2 diabetes for a long time, you may know that it is often a progressive disease. The longer someone lives with type 2, the more likely they are to need insulin therapy to manage their blood sugars. Often, but not always, people with type 2 diabetes start the management of their condition with exercise and diet alone, and then may progress to oral medications like Metformin, before finally (over the course of months or even years) requiring insulin to manage their blood sugar levels.

If this happens, you and your doctor will need to come up with a new treatment plan. But what can you expect? This article will describe what will and what won’t happen, and how to prepare when adding insulin therapy to your diabetes management.

There Is No Need to Panic

It’s important to remember that you haven’t done anything wrong if you get to a point where you need insulin therapy. Physicians used to prescribe insulin to people with type 2 diabetes as a last resort, but in recent years are prescribing it much sooner, due to the benefits of more stringent blood sugar management to prevent complications.

Since type 2 diabetes is often a progressive disease, many with the condition will require insulin at some point. You didn’t fail at diabetes management, and insulin is no punishment. Adding insulin therapy to your management toolkit is just another way to better meet HbA1c goals, enjoy better blood sugars, improve your quality of life, and even extend your life. Embrace it!

Insulin Does Not Inherently Make You Gain Weight

There is a common myth that insulin makes you gain weight. And this line of thinking is simply false. Here’s the connection between insulin and weight gain: When you take insulin, glucose from food is better able to enter your cells, making your blood sugar level drop. But if you take in more calories (eat more) than you need, your cells will also get more glucose than they need, and anything extra is stored as fat.

But this is obvious: the same process happens to people who do not have diabetes. People also believe that insulin causes weight gain because at diagnosis, people might be underweight (as a symptom of the disease), and finally getting the insulin they need into their bodies makes them gain the much-needed weight back. There are many side effects of insulin, but if you eat right, exercise, and take it as prescribed, extra weight gain is not one of them.

You Will Experience More Low Blood Sugars

One well-known and common side effect of insulin, however, is hypoglycemia. If you’ve traditionally managed your diabetes with exercise and diet alone, you may have rarely, if ever, experienced low blood sugar. Even oral diabetes medications, such as Metformin, rarely cause low blood sugars when taken on their own, but insulin is a whole different story.

You will need to work with your doctor to fine-tune your management, so you are able to take enough insulin to manage high blood sugars, while not taking too much where you will drop too low. It is a learning process, and it will take time.

Be better prepared by always carrying a snack on you, and making sure to check your blood sugar more often to prevent lows. Symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

Symptoms of severe low blood sugar include:

  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness

Severe low blood sugar always requires immediate emergency medical attention and 911 should be contacted right away. Ask you doctor about a prescription for Glucagon,  an emergency injection that can be used to bring blood glucose levels up in case of an emergency.

Your Medical Bills Will Go Up

Diabetes is a costly disease, as of 2017, was the most expensive chronic disease in the United States, costing over $327 billion dollars per year. While diet, exercise, and even oral diabetes medications are cheaper ways to manage type 2 diabetes, insulin is one of the most expensive chronic disease medications on the market in the United States, averaging around $285 per vial.

Be prepared for higher costs at the pharmacy counter, especially if your physician prescribes you fast-acting, analog insulins like Humalog, Novolog, or Fiasp. Cheaper, human-insulins are available over the counter at places like Walmart, although they are much slower-acting, are much older, and their efficacy may not be as good as modern insulins.

Make sure to sign up for health insurance, and make sure your insurance plan will cover prescription insulin at a decent out-of-pocket cost. See if you are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare for more affordable coverage.

If available, make sure to take advantage of your employer’s Health Savings Account (HSA) and work with your doctor to make sure you have been prescribed insulin that you can comfortably afford for the long-haul. More resources for affording insulin can be found here.

You Will Need Additional Support

Adding insulin therapy to your diabetes management is a big decision. You will need extra emotional, mental, and even physical support during this time. Insulin therapy is expensive, and the toll of managing low blood sugars for the first time can be tough. Insulin injections can sometimes hurt, finding new injection sites can be hard without a second set of eyes, counting carbohydrates more closely is time-consuming, and fighting off stigma and shame is real and can be hard on everyone. It is a big adjustment.

Getting support from family and friends, joining a diabetes support group, or simply becoming more engaged in the diabetes community can really help during this time. Make sure to enlist friends and family to help you, and be open and honest with them about your worries and struggles. Adding insulin therapy to your management is meant to help, not hurt, but it’s easier when you’re not doing it alone.

Insulin Can Improve the Quality of Your Life

When taking insulin, it is crucial that you work with your doctor and follow your treatment plan to better meet your health goals. The transition from managing with diet and exercise alone or solely taking oral medications to insulin therapy can be challenging, but with a growth mindset and preparation for what lies ahead, you can thrive on insulin therapy and vastly improve the quality of your life.

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