5 Common Fears About Taking Insulin

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Man giving himself injection in stomach

Scared to start insulin? You’re not alone. Although insulin is a very safe and effective treatment for diabetes, most people are less than thrilled to begin insulin therapy.

Addressing your fears head-on can help you move past your hesitation, toward a healthier life. Here are five of the most common fears regarding insulin therapy, along with some ideas to help you cope.

1. I’m afraid insulin will make things worse.

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body effectively use glucose, or “blood sugar.” In people who don’t have diabetes, the body efficiently makes and secretes insulin, which helps glucose move from the blood stream into the tissues, where it’s used for energy.

In people who have diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood stream because the body cannot effectively make or use insulin.

Insulin therapy is used to control blood sugar levels, and it does so by mimicking the body’s natural functioning. Using insulin is often the most effective way to get blood sugar levels down to normal levels, and the closer your blood sugar is to normal, the healthier you’ll be.

Yet many people are afraid insulin will make them sicker. Often they’ve seen friends or family members go on insulin and then develop kidney failure, blindness or heart problems. The truth is kidney failure, blindness and heart problems often result from diabetes, not from insulin therapy. Taking insulin (and keeping your blood sugar under control) can actually slow the progression of disease and delay the onset of diabetes complications.

In other words, you’re more likely to get sicker quicker if you don’t take insulin as directed by your doctor.

2. I’m afraid it’ll hurt!

Few people like needles. But people who use insulin say the fear of injection pain is often far greater than the actual discomfort.

The needles used to inject insulin are much smaller and thinner than needles used for vaccinations. And while vaccinations are usually injected into a muscle (which can cause muscle soreness), insulin is injected into the fatty layer just beneath the skin.Some people prefer to use insulin pens instead of traditional insulin syringes. With an insulin pen, you don’t have to see the needle enter the skin–and that nifty trick helps some people relax.

3. I’m afraid I’ll gain weight.

In one study of more than 300 women with diabetes, nearly one-third admitted to skipping some of their insulin because they were afraid they’d gain weight if they took the full dose.

Some people do gain weight on insulin; a study from the UK found that adults who start insulin averaged a weight gain of nearly five pounds over the first three years. But it’s unlikely insulin is the direct cause of weight gain. The weight gain could simply be a coincidence; many people with diabetes are in mid-life, a time when most adults gain weight. Another possible cause of weight gain: frequent snacking to prevent low blood sugars.

If you’re worried about gaining weight, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a dietician who can help you design an appropriate eating plan.

4. I’m afraid insulin therapy will cost a lot.

Insulin and its associated equipment–syringes, blood sugar testing supplies, needles–can be expensive. But in the long run, taking insulin is probably a lot cheaper than not taking it, because poorly controlled diabetes leads to expensive health complications and hospitalizations. Furthermore, insulin therapy is often less expensive than oral diabetes medications.

You can control costs by using generic supplies whenever possible and shopping for the best possible prices. (Your doctor or healthcare insurance company may be able to help you compare prices at various pharmacies.) Ask your healthcare provider to review your medication list and diabetes management plan; if your provider knows cost is a concern, he or she can tweak your plan to incorporate cost-conscious measures. Additionally, the American Diabetes Association maintains a webpage filled with financial assistance offerings for medication and supplies.

5. I’m afraid I won’t be able to go anywhere.

The idea of lugging around insulin and syringes, and self-administering insulin in public places, can be intimidating. But many people who use insulin to manage their diabetes live very active lives. They go to the gym, to work and on vacation, just as before.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with diabetes; the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act extends the protection of disability laws to other public spaces, including hotels, restaurants, concert venues, and public transportation.

Heading out on the town may take a bit more preparation than before, but with practice, managing your insulin regimen while on the road will be nearly as easy as managing it at home.

It’s completely normal to feel some fear and hesitation regarding insulin administration. Share your concerns with your healthcare provider; he or she can teach you valuable skills and coping techniques. Connecting with other people who use insulin, either informally or formally, in a support group, may also be helpful. Over six million Americans use insulin to control their diabetes. You can do it, too.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Dec 26
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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