Diabetes treatment - insulin and other medicines

Diabetes treatment - insulin and other medicines

People with type 1 diabetes mellitus need insulin therapy to replace the insulin that the body can no longer produce. People with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin.

Key points to remember about diabetes treatment

You need a healthy food plan and regular intake of carbohydrate to balance with insulin by injection or insulin pump.

  • people with type 1 diabetes need insulin therapy to replace the insulin that the body can no longer produce
  • insulin action and duration varies according to insulin type
  • you can give insulin by injection by syringe, or a pen device, or by an insulin pump into the layer of fat under the skin

What are the insulin basics?

People with type 1 diabetes mellitus need insulin therapy to replace the insulin that the body can no longer produce. People with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin. You can give insulin by injection by syringe or a pen device or by an insulin pump into the layer of fat under the skin (called the subcutaneous layer).

You need a healthy food plan and regular intake of carbohydrate to balance with insulin by injection or insulin pump.

What are the different types of insulin?

Insulin action and duration varies according to insulin type.

Rapid acting insulin (Novorapid/Humalog/Apidra)

You need food within 15 minutes of an injection of rapid acting insulin (Novorapid/Humalog/Apidra). Rapid acting insulins have a peak action at between 0 and 3 hours. They tend to last between 2 and 4 hours. They are clear in appearance.

Short acting insulin (Actrapid/Humulin R)

You need food 20 – 30 minutes after an injection of short acting insulin (Actrapid/Humulin R). Short acting insulins have a peak action of 2 - 4 hours and can last for up to 8 hours. They are also clear in appearance.

Intermediate acting insulin (Protophane/Humulin NPH)

You usually take intermediate acting insulin (Protophane/Humulin NPH) once or twice a day to provide background insulin combined with either rapid or short acting insulin. Their peak activity is between 4 and 12 hours but can last up to 24 hours. They are cloudy in appearance.

Long acting insulin analogues (Lantus [Glargine Solostar]/Levermir [Detemir])

You take long acting insulin analogues (Lantus [Glargine Solostar]/Levermir [Detemir]) either once or twice a day to provide background 'basal' insulin combined with either rapid acting or short acting insulin. Sometimes they are also combined with intermediate acting insulin. They are clear in appearance.

Mixed insulin (Penmix30/Novomix30/Humalog Mix25/Humalog Mix50)

Mixed insulin (Penmix30/Novomix30/Humalog Mix25/Humalog Mix50) is a combination of intermediate acting insulin and either rapid or short acting insulin. You use mixed insulin less often for children and young people as it is difficult to adjust doses when the different types of insulin are mixed together.

How do I store insulin?

Store unopened vials and cartridges of insulin in the fridge between 2 - 8 degrees Celsius until their date of expiry.

You can keep insulin that has been opened for use at room temperature. Injections are more comfortable if the insulin is not cold.

You can store opened vials and cartridges of insulin at room temperature for 4 weeks. If you store opened insulin in the fridge, allow 15 - 20 minutes for it to come up to room temperature before using.

Where on my child's body do I inject insulin?

Insulin needles are very small as you only need to inject insulin into the layer of fat under the skin (subcutaneously). Once injected, the insulin goes into the blood.

The main areas where children and young people can safely inject insulin are the stomach, and the upper, outer areas of the buttocks. The abdomen provides the fastest and most consistent rate of insulin absorption and is less affected by exercise than other sites. You can also use the fronts and/or sides of the thighs but these are less commonly used in children.

At the time of diagnosis, where there has been significant weight loss, the buttocks are generally the preferred site to make sure injections are going into the fat layer and not the muscle layer. Buttocks are generally also the preferred site for younger children and infants.

Lipohypertrophy is an abnormal accumulation of fat underneath the surface of the skin. It is a common problem when insulin is repeatedly injected into the same area and affects insulin absorption. You can avoid lipohypertrophy by rotating the injection sites.

How do I administer my child's insulin?

It is important to remember to wash hands to remove dirt or germs before injecting insulin.

Preparation for insulin injections will vary according to your child's age and stage of development. Young children, for example, may require distraction with bubbles.

Children may learn to do their own injections under close supervision. But, injections remain the responsibility of parents/carers until a child is 16 years.

Slight bleeding and bruising will happen sometimes because the needle has passed through a tiny blood vessel. This should not affect the absorption of the insulin but may cause stinging at the time of the injection.

Insulin injections should cause minimal discomfort. But, injections not given deeply enough into the fat layer may cause pain. Insulin given too deeply may go into the muscle which may also cause pain. Children who get used to having injections in the same area may complain that injections are more painful when they move sites. You can avoid this by encouraging your child to use various areas of the body from the time of diagnosis.

Please talk to your specialist diabetes team about a guideline for the safe administration of insulin for your particular child. This is because the administration technique may need to change as your child grows older and gets bigger.

You need to dispose of all needles in a sharps container.

What about the administration of insulin using a pump device?

An insulin pump constantly delivers basal insulin according to preprogrammed doses stored within the pump. By pressing buttons on the pump, you can adjust these programmes for different times of the day or during periods of increased activity, to deliver more or less basal insulin as required.

The pump also delivers preprogrammed bolus doses of insulin when your child eats carbohydrate food or when the blood glucose levels are high. Pressing buttons on the pump also delivers these bolus doses.

The insulin within the main pump unit is stored within an insulin reservoir. The reservoir connects to a thin piece of tubing. This tubing connects to a cannula inserted into the subcutaneous layer of fat, generally in the abdomen or buttock.

People using insulin pumps need to regularly look at blood glucose trends (minimum of 6 blood glucose tests/day) to work out if programmed insulin doses for both the basal and the bolus insulin are adequately meeting their needs.

Families of children and young people considering insulin pump therapy as a treatment option need specialised training and education. Local diabetes teams provide this. There is also specific criteria within New Zealand regarding eligibility for funding for pump therapy.

Check the following leaflet for more information regarding the Starship Pump Programme and Pharmac criteria for funding eligibility - scroll down the page to 'document downloads'.  

Thumbnail image of a leaflet

The Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledges the cooperation of the Starship Children's Hospital, Auckland District Health Board.  The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the National Clinical Network Children and Young People's Diabetes Services. 

This page last reviewed 29 July 2016.
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