July 20, 2005
Question from Whitworth, United Kingdom:
How long can someone live without insulin?
The fact that you are asking the question has me suspiciously worried! I hope you are not trying to hurt yourself or planning to see how long you can go without insulin.
The answer, perhaps, mostly lies in how long the person has had type 1 diabetes. For someone like yourself, who indicated that you have had diabetes for more than 10 years, you MIGHT be able to live for 7 to 10 or so days without insulin. But, the death would be awful and difficult and not peaceful. You would begin to have much urination and be extremely thirsty; but, you would also develop abdominal pain and get nauseated and vomit so you might drink but not be able to keep anything down with all the vomiting. You would start to get achy and sore and could have a terrible headache as your brain began to swell! You would have blurred vision and would begin to become delirious before you probably would go into a coma and become brain dead. The death would be awful to watch and impossible to bear by those that love you. And even if you did not progress that far to death, if there were too much delay before you could get taken to an emergency room, the damage may already have been done and it might be too late to reverse matters back to normal.
DO NOT OMIT YOUR INSULIN DOSES.
Additional comments from Dr. Tessa Lebinger:
Some children and teenagers are so dependent on insulin, they could develop life threatening ketoacidosis in less than one day if they skip their insulin, especially if they are sick with another illness.
Most people who make no insulin are very uncomfortable within 12 hours of missing a dose. People who are still making a lot of insulin and are still in the remission phase, may be able to stop insulin for days or even months while their body is still temporarily making a lot insulin, though this is not usually recommended (continuing to give insulin during the remission may prolong continued insulin production and make control better years from now.)
A teenager who has had diabetes since infancy and for 10 years probably is making very little insulin now and could get very sick and die VERY quickly if they miss their insulin.
If you are considering “experimenting” with skipping your insulin and these answers haven’t convinced you NOT to see what happens if you skip your insulin, I hope you will talk to your parents, doctor, nurse, a teacher, or school counselor and tell them. Many teens get tired of taking shots and like to “experiment” with skipping shots. Many survive, but some die. If you are just curious and this talks you out of trying, that’s fine. If you are still thinking of trying this, you may be depressed and may need professional help.
I hope this helps and I hope you continue to take your insulin so you will be healthy when the cure for diabetes is found.