12 Myths About Insulin and Type 2 Diabetes

Think insulin is a difficult, painful, or scary medical treatment? We expose 12 myths about type 2 diabetes and insulin so you know what's fact or fiction.

Most people think of insulin as a difficult, painful, or potentially scary medical treatment.

But if you have type 2 diabetes, you should know the myths about insulin and type 2 diabetes so you can make an informed choice about whether or not this potentially lifesaving therapy is right for you.

Here, we take a look at the facts and fiction about insulin when it comes to treating type 2 diabetes.

01 of 12

Diabetics Always Need Insulin

This is a semi-myth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with type 1 diabetes (about 5% to 10% of diabetics) do need insulin. If you have type 2, which includes 90% to 95% of all people with diabetes, you may not need insulin.

Of adults with diabetes, only 14% use insulin, 13% use insulin plus oral medication, 57% take oral medication only, and 16% control blood sugar with diet and exercise alone, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

The point is to get blood sugar—which can be a highly toxic poison in the body—into the safe zone by any means necessary.

02 of 12

Insulin Means You've Failed

"This is a big myth," says Jill Crandall, MD, professor of clinical medicine and director of the diabetes clinical trial unit at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, N.Y. "Many people who try very hard to adhere to a diet, exercise, and lose weight will still need insulin."

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive illness, meaning that over time you may need to change what you do to make sure your blood sugar is in a healthy range. Eating right and exercise will always be important, but medication needs can vary. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) explains that you may notice that it's harder to reach your diabetes treatment targets even though your medication, exercise routine, diet, or other things you do to manage your diabetes hasn't changed—and that's normal.

"A large percentage of people with type 2 diabetes will ultimately need insulin, and we don't see it as a failure," said Dr. Crandall.

03 of 12

Insulin Injections Hurt

One of the myths about insulin is that the injections are painful. "This is absolutely false," said Dr. Crandall. "With the small fine needles we have today, insulin injections are close to painless, if not painless."

In fact, most people would say that the finger pricks used to measure blood glucose levels hurt more than insulin injections.

"When people get their first injection, they often say, 'I can't believe it didn't hurt,'" said Dr. Crandall. What's more, you may not need to use syringes at all.

There are injector pens on the market that allow you to dial the dose of insulin, snap on a tiny needle, and inject painlessly.

04 of 12

Insulin Can Cause Dangerously Low Blood Sugar

This one is possible, but not likely. People with type 2 diabetes tend to be at lower risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) than those with type 1.

Each persons' preaction to low blood sugar will be different, says the ADA. However, most people with type 2 can easily recognize the symptoms, which could include anxiety, shaky hands, sweating, and an urge to eat. A prolonged episode of low blood sugar could cause a loss of consciousness or coma.

Consuming a bit of sugar—a few Life Savers, diluted juice, or glucose tablets—quickly reverses the low blood sugar.

05 of 12

Insulin Is Forever

This is a partial myth. Some people with type 2 diabetes may need insulin temporarily, such as right after they're diagnosed or during pregnancy, whereas others may need to stay on it indefinitely, according to Joslin Diabetes Center.

People who lose a lot of weight (naturally or with the help of bariatric surgery) may find that they no longer need insulin, while others who lose weight may still need it.

It largely depends on how much damage diabetes has done to the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. "It is not always a one-way street," said Dr. Crandall.

06 of 12

Insulin Is Difficult To Take

Gone are the days when insulin injections were bulky, conspicuous, and difficult to administer.

"Today, insulin comes in pen injectors that are easy to carry with you, don't require refrigeration, and can be used discreetly, often just once a day," said Dr. Crandall.

"There are a large variety of insulin and insulin regimens that are much more convenient than they used to be," she added.

07 of 12

Oral Medications Are Better Than Insulin

Oral diabetes medications can be great when it comes to lowering blood glucose levels. Many have been used for years and are very safe, such as metformin.

Still, they don't work for everyone. "For some people, insulin is the easiest and best because it always works, but some people respond to pills, and others don't," said Dr. Crandall.

Not all oral medications have a tried-and-true safety record. For example. Avandia was restricted by the FDA because of research suggesting that it increades the risk of heart attack.

08 of 12

Insulin Will Make You Gain Weight

This is another partial myth.

Some people with type 2 diabetes may gain weight after starting insulin therapy. However, the insulin therapy itself does not induce weight gain. The reason for the weight gain is, if a diabetes treatment is working, is likely that the body begins to process blood glucose more normally, and the result can be weight gain. (This is one reason unexplained weight loss can be an early symptom of diabetes.) In addition, a 2017 study in the journal Diabetes Care saw a link between weight gain and increased sedentary behavior in pateints after initiation of insulin therapy.

The good news is that weight gain tends to level out as insulin therapy continues, and the weight gain may be transient, said Dr. Crandall.

09 of 12

People With Type 2 Don't Make Insulin

This is a type 2 diabetes myth. People with type 2 diabetes may actually produce higher-than-normal levels of insulin earlier in the course of the disease, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia, according to the ADA.

This happens because type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, a condition in which the body loses the ability to respond normally to the hormone, says the CDC.

Taking insulin shots can help overcome insulin resistance, and they can take the place of naturally occurring insulin production, which does tend to dwindle over time.

10 of 12

Insulin Means Your Diabetes Is Serious

The truth is diabetes is a serious condition no matter how you treat it—it's just that so few people realize it. Because you can have diabetes and feel just fine (or ignore symptoms like thirst and fatigue), you may think you've got a "touch of sugar" or some other mild-sounding condition.

In reality, high blood sugar poisons the body. High blood sugar can cause damage to very small blood vessels in your body. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the sugar "sticks" to your small blood vessels, which makes it hard for blood to get to your organs. This, in turn, damages the heart, kidney, eyes, nerves, and feet.

This is why it's crucial to make sure your blood sugar is under control, whether it takes diet, exercise, pills, insulin, or all of these combined.

11 of 12

Insulin Use Requires Multiple Daily Injections

Not always. If you need insulin, you have options, according to the CDC. You can try a long-acting once-a-day insulin (usually given at night), which mimics the low level of insulin normally found in the body all day long.

This may be enough to control blood sugar on its own, or it can be combined with oral medications.

If blood sugar is still too high after meals, however, you may need to take insulin several times a day, just before eating, says the ADA.

12 of 12

Insulin Is a Treatment of Last Resort

Although some people exhaust all possible diabetes treatments before resorting to insulin, this may not be the best strategy.

"By the time a person with type 2 starts insulin therapy, they likely already have diabetes-related complication because of poor blood sugar control," said Dr. Crandall.

Because high blood sugar is so toxic and can up the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other problems, you shouldn't waste too much time undergoing treatments that aren't getting your blood sugar under control.

In fact, starting insulin sooner may avoid complications, cause oral medications to work better (and be effective longer), or allow you to use a less-complicated insulin regimen for a longer period of time.

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