Should I Inject Insulin Into a Vein?
I am 20 years old and have type 1 diabetes. When I am off the insulin pump, my blood sugar gets unstable and can take more than 48 hours to go down. Two friends told me that to handle this, they just inject a very small amount of insulin directly into the bloodstream. I know it sounds crazy, but this would save me time and money. Is it safe? Name Withheld
Christy L. Parkin, MSN, RN, CDE, responds: The short answer is no, no, no! It's not at all safe. This idea not only sounds crazy—it is crazy.
What to Know: As you know, insulin is needed to regulate your blood glucose, especially as blood glucose levels begin to rise after you eat. When insulin is produced by the pancreas, it is released in small amounts in response to blood glucose levels over the course of several hours. Injecting insulin just under the skin simulates this response most effectively and safely because the insulin works gradually.
When insulin is injected intravenously, the effect is immediate but very short-lived. Instead of the insulin being gradually absorbed into the circulation from tissue, it is immediately available in the bloodstream. This results in abnormally high insulin levels that can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar levels—hypoglycemia. If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to unconsciousness.
The usual delivery of IV insulin is with an insulin drip using Regular insulin. This is administered in a hospital setting with medical support and close monitoring. Because of the high risk for hypoglycemia (and the added risk of unsanitary injections causing infection), it is never advisable to inject insulin into a vein without medical supervision.
Possible Solutions: When your blood sugar is too high, you can use a "correction factor" to give extra rapid-acting insulin in small and calculated doses. Also, if you inject your insulin in the abdomen just under the skin, you will most likely have similar absorption rates from injection to injection and be able to match your carbohydrate intake to best match your insulin dose. You can also minimize the time you spend off the insulin pump—no more than one hour.
Takeaways: The practice of "mainlining" insulin should never be done outside a medical setting. It is a recipe for disaster. You say this would save you time and money. There is no time or cost savings if you have even one emergency room visit for an episode of hypoglycemia.