Aim of Insulin Treatment

  • Replace endogenous insulin in patients with absolute or relative deficiencies in insulin secretion


Optium Outcome of Insulin Treatment

  • Abolish hyperglycaemia and the osmotic symptoms of diabetes
  • Optomise glucose control and maintain as near normal a blood glucose as is practical and safe for the individual
  • Maintain an ideal body weight
  • Avoid hypoglycaemia
  • Provide appropriate self management and tailored education to meet an individual’s need
  • Provide appropriate education of carer if self management is not appropriate


Principles of Insulin Treatment

  • Self blood glucose monitoring and HbA1c measurements are advised to ensure treatment is effective and targets are met
  • Education by the specialist team: DSNs & dietitians, TIM.  A balance must be maintained between the amount of carbohydrate consumed, insulin administered and exercise taken – all of which can effect the blood glucose
  • Education about the management of sick days is essential for people prescribed insulin. Remember that prescriptions are free for all patients who are on hypoglycaemic drugs and insulin.


Starting insulin is best managed as an outpatient, with input from a Diabetes Specialist Nurse and Dietitian.


Insulin Therapy in Type 1 Diabetes

Patients are usually seen urgently after the diagnosis is made and insulin started, preferably as an out-patient. Initial education and follow up is from the Diabetes Specialist Nurses and medical review is arranged thereafter.


Insulin Therapy and Pancreatic Pathology


Treatment with insulin may be required in the following:

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Pancreatitis during acute stage and / or long term thereafter  Individual assessment and monitoring is required
  • Carcinoma of the pancreas - insulin therapy will be required following total pancreatectomy


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Insulin Therapy in Type 2 Diabetes

The most common indication for insulin in these patients is worsening glycaemic control on oral agents. The decision to switch treatment to insulin can be difficult and the following factors should be taken into account:

  • Age
  • Other health problems, e.g. complications such as visual loss
  • Social circumstances, e.g. patients holding HGV licence
  • Patient's attitude
  • Compliance with diet
  • Patient's weight


Education and initial follow up can be provided by the Diabetes Specialist Nurses


In general, obese patients who are not losing weight despite hyperglycaemia should have dietary factors addresses as they do not fare better on insulin. However a trial of insulin is justified in any patient with Type 2 diabetes who is poorly controlled and has osmotic symptoms


Frequently, those with Type 2 diabetes gain in weight after starting insulin and in some this can be around 4 kg after 6 months. Patients should be warned that this might occur particularly if they fail to reduce their energy intake and dietetic advice and education is essential.  Patients should continue on metformin, where possible in an to attempt to reduce weight gain with starting insulin (see below)


Insulin as Combination Therapy in Type 2 Diabetes


Insulin & OHA's

  • Often patients are advised to continue with their daytime oral agents and are started on a single pre-bedtime insulin injection (usually an Isophane preparation) – known as “Basal Insulin”.
  • If this is insufficient for control, prandial insulin can then be introduced and a decision is taken about rationalizing the oral agents
  • This strategy is most often used for obese Type 2 patients.
  • Ideally metformin is retained as an insulin-sparing agent.
  • The combination of pioglitazone and insulin is occasionally used in insulin resistant individuals, but only under specialist supervision.

The decision to use combined insulin and oral therapy is usually taken after consultation with the specialist diabetes team.


Insulin & Liraglutide or Exenatide


The combination of insulin and a GLP-1 Receptor Agonist (Exenatide or Liraglutide) is unlicensed. Given the multiple case series demonstrating efficacy of this combination, and the fact that this offers an attractive therapeutic option for obese patients with type 2 diabetes where insulin dose increase results in spiralling weight gain, the Tayside Area Drug and Therapeutics Committee have approved the following protocol for this combination therapy. The Clinical Protocol is available here


Insulin Therapy in the Elderly

Chronological age is not a contraindication to insulin therapy. However "biological age" should be a factor in setting appropriate glycaemic targets and in choosing a suitable insulin regimen.

  • Targets for glycaemic control in the elderly need not be as stringent as in the younger patient
  • The aim of treatment is to control hyperglycaemia with particular avoidance of hypoglycaemia.
  • It may be best to avoid rapid acting insulin in the very elderly because of the risk of hypoglycaemia
  • Regimens using either once or twice daily isophane are often best in this age group
  • Consider the need for supervision by community nurses if the HbA1c suggests non-compliance.


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Starting Insulin

All patients starting insulin should have the following:

  • Review of dietary intake, with emphasis on regular and consistent carbohydrate intake.
  • An individualised regime, which must take account of lifestyle factors such as shift work, holidays, exercise etc.
  • Appropriate education on self-management of insulin administration
  • Education on avoidance of hypoglycaemia
  • Education on "sick day rules", including avoidance of diabetic ketoacidosis for people with Type 1 diabetes.
  • See Education Checklist for more information


 Principles of Injection

Insulin administration is best taught by a nurse with specialist skills in diabetes.



  • It is important to mix ‘cloudy’ isophane and ‘mixed’ insulin preparations before injection
  • Gently tip the pen/vial 10 times and roll between the palms of the hands 10 times to mix it


Needles and Technique

  • A new insulin pen needle (or syringe) should be used for each injection
  • The subcutaneous fat layer varies from person to person and from site to site. Needles are available in different lengths 5mm, 6mm,8 & 12.7mm
  • For needle size above 6mm, insert at 90 degree angle and use a "pinch up" technique
  • For needle size 6mm or below, insert at 90 degree angle but without "pinch up"
  • There is no need to swab the skin before or after injection
  • Avoid any "lumpy" or atrophic areas
  • Inject subcutaneously and maintain the needle in place for 10 seconds
  • Do not advise patients to inject through clothes
  • Remember that needles should be removed and disposed of carefully after each injection - see Disposal of Sharps.



  • The three main areas to inject are the abdomen, upper outer thighs and upper buttocks
  • The upper outer arms can be used but care must be taken to reduce the risk of an intramuscular injection
  • Rotate sites at each injection
  • Using a consistent site for each time of day can help to reliably predict the effect of a dose of insulin
  • It is important however to rotate injections within the same site each day.
  • Do not mix site and time, as each site has a different absorption pattern


Lipohypertrophy.  Repeated injection of insulin into the same area. can predispose to the development of an accumulation of subcutaneous fat, which is a local trophic effect of insulin. Insulin will not be absorbed reliably if it is injected into an area of lipohypertrophy and this may result in poor or erratic blood glucose control.


Lipoatrophy is another local reaction to insulin, which is due to hollowing of subcutaneous fat. This may be seen in patients with longstanding diabetes who have used animal insulin in the past. However it is rarely seen nowadays as most insulin preparations are highly purified. 

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Insulin Preparations (click on insulin for BNF guidance)

Rapid acting analogue

Short Acting (soluble)

Intermediate Acting(Isophane)

Long acting insulin

Rapid/Intermediate Analogue mixture

Short Acting/

Intermediate Mixture


(Vial, penfill, Flexpen)





(vial, innolet,penfill)


Levemir (Detemir)

(Innolet, flexpen)


Novomix 30

(Penfill, Flexpen)






(Vial, Cartridge, Kwik pen) 

Humulin S

(vial, cartridge)

Humulin I

(vial, cartridge, kwik pen)


Humalog Mix 25

(Vial, Cartridge,Kwik pen)

Humalog Mix 50

(Cartridge, Kwik pen)

Humulin M3

(Vial, Cartridge, Kwik pen)


(Vial, Cartridge, Solo Star)

Insuman Rapid


Insuman Basal


Lantus (Glargine)

(vial, cartridge, Solo Star)


Insuman Comb 15, Insuman Comb 50(Cartridge)

Insuman Combi 25

(Vial, Cartridge)


Hypurin Porcine Neutral

(vial, cartridge)

Hypurin Porcine Isophane

(vial, cartridge)



Hypurin Porcine 30/70

(Vial, Cartridge)




Bovine Isophane

(vial, cartridge)


Bovine Protamine Zinc




Time of subcutaneous injection (individual assessment recommended

Immediately before or immediately after carbohydrate meal

15 -  20 minutes before carbohydrate meal

15 -  20 minutes before breakfast and 15 -  20 minutes before evening meal

Once or twice daily

Immediately before or after breakfast and immediately before or after evening meal (additional lunchtime dose will be recommended in some patients)

15 -  20 minutes before breakfast and 15 -  20 minutes before evening meal




 Duration of Insulin


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Insulin Administration Devices

  • Insulin pen devices and cartridges of insulin are designed for ‘self use’ only
  • Nursing staff should use an insulin syringe to administer insulin to reduce the risk of needle stick injury
  • If a patient is unable to administer their own insulin and the preparation does not come in a vial, a suitable alternative insulin preparation should be prescribed
  • Cartridges are not interchangeable with different pen devices


Insulin Syringes

  • 1ml and 0.5ml syringes with 12.7mm needles are available on prescription
  • 0.5ml and 0.3ml syringes with 8mm needles are available on prescription
  • Insulin syringes can be used by patients who still wish to mix soluble and isophane insulins
  • Insulin syringes can be used to administer large volumes of insulin which cannot be accommodated in a pen device
  • Insulin syringes must not be used to extract insulin from a prefilled insulin device or cartridge. The plunger mechanism of the device will be adversely affected if insulin is extracted using a syringe and will not deliver insulin accurately thereafter.


Storage of Insulin and Pen Devices


Guidelines for the storage of insulin.

Specific storage guidelines for each insulin preparation are available in the product package insert.

Unopened vials, pen devices and cartridges

Store in a medicine fridge (2 - 6 degrees C)


(in use)


Document ‘date of first use’ on vial

Store in a fridge (2 - 6 degrees C)

Discard after  28 days in use

Do not use after expiry date

Use insulin syringes with 8mm needles

Prefilled insulin pen devices

(in use)


‘In-use’ devices can be stored at room temperature (for a maximum of 28 days) appropriately labelled with patient identification.

Insulin 3mLCartridges

(in use)


‘In use’ cartridges are kept in the pen device appropriately labelled

And stored at room temperature for 28 days.

Do not store cartridge pens in the fridge





















Insulin Regimens and Dose Adjustment


See insulin adjustment guidelines in hand book and patient leaflet



Here are some general guidelines that should be borne in mind when advising on a change in insulin dose

  •  Never change insulin on the basis of a one off reading
  • Always check monitoring technique
  • Ask and check about injection technique
  • Identify the periods of day when problems occur and look for a pattern in readings


Over Insulinisation

The following symptoms are suggestive of over insulinisation:

               Recurrent Hypos

               Wildly swinging glucose values

               Weight gain

               Subtle features of chronic hypo e.g. headache, hunger, personality change in elderly


Dosage adjustment with glargine


Fasting Glucose (mmol/L)

Increase Glargine dose by (units/day)

















Continuous Insulin Pump Therapy (CSII)


A dedicated multidisciplinary pump service is available in NHS Tayside,see insulin pump protocol in handbook

During weekday working hours the Diabetes team is available for consultation and advice.

Dundee - 01382 633909
Angus - 01241 447811
Perth - 01738 793476

During out of hours help and advice can be given by GP and District Nurse.