Ginger Vieira was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 13, celiac disease a year later, and fibromyalgia in 2014. Ginger provides great insights into life with multiple chronic illnesses, including how to make the most of your life despite your health setbacks.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that the insulin we're prescribed is not the same as the insulin our bodies make (or don't make, for that matter). These manufactured insulins are great; they help us live longer, healthier lives with diabetes. But they are chemicals, and they are all very different.
In fact, some types of insulin work really well for some people and not so well for other people, just as one type of pain reliever might work well for one person but not as well for another person. Our bodies react differently to different chemicals.
And that's why it's important to know your options and try different options with your doctor's help if you're having trouble controlling your blood sugar levels.
Here are the basic insulin options available today:
Regular. Also known as "Humilin R" or "Novolin R," this is a "short-acting" insulin. According to the American Diabetes Association, it "usually reaches the bloodstream within 30 minutes after injection, peaks anywhere from two to three hours after injection, and is effective for approximately three to six hours." This insulin isn't used as widely today because it's considered a "fast-acting" insulin, but isn't nearly as fast as the newer types of insulin available today. This insulin is also often paired with NPH insulin.
NPH. This "intermediate-acting" insulin serves as a background, or basal, insulin. The ADA says it "generally reaches the bloodstream about 2 to 4 hours after injection, peaks 4 to 12 hours later, and is effective for about 12 to 18 hours." This insulin helps control your blood sugar both between and during meals, but requires a more consistent eating schedule because its peaks can be fairly significant, dropping your blood sugar if you don't eat regularly.
Novolog or Humalog or Apidra. These are "fast" or "rapid-acting" insulins taken before meals or to correct high blood sugars. Often paired with a background insulin like NPH or Lantus or Levemir (see below), these insulins start working in the bloodstream within 15 minutes and stay in the bloodstream for two to four hours. For people with type 1 diabetes, they must be paired with a background insulin, and the same is true for some people with type 2 diabetes. These rapid-acting insulins are appreciated for better prevention of post-meal high blood sugars.
Lantus or Levemir. These are "long-acting" insulins because they stay in the bloodstream for 18 to 24 hours and are meant to keep the blood sugar steady, in contrast to the fast-acting insulin used at meal times. Doses can be split into two doses taken 12 hours apart or taken all at once depending on your doctor's recommendations.
If you're currently on an insulin regimen that doesn't seem to be keeping your blood sugars in the range you'd like them to be, talk to your doctor about fine-tuning your dosages or trying a new type of insulin. All insulin doses need to be adjusted and fine-tuned throughout life!