What Is the Basal Rate?

5 mins read

January 28, 2021

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The basal rate is crucial for body functioning and health. It defines how much background insulin a body requires for efficient use of energy for basic bodily processes. 

Breathing, blood circulation, brain function, heart beating, digestion, and other activities require energy. And it is insulin that helps to use the food for energy. 

The basal rate in the body is not fixed. It varies from person to person. When you eat food, you need more insulin. When you are incredibly active, you may require less. In a healthy person, this activity carries on in the background quite efficiently as the body releases insulin as required. 


How Does Insulin Occur 

The all-important pancreas has beta cells that produce insulin and release it into the body. This hormone enables glucose from the foods you eat to be used by the body. When your body does not produce insulin at all or not enough of it, you need insulin by external means.

If you don’t get the insulin you need, the sugar from foods will circulate and build-up in your bloodstream and eventually damage organs. You will feel hungry constantly, thinking that you have not eaten enough and experience other symptoms of diabetes. 


How Is Insulin Used in the Body

After you eat and the food is digested, the sugar levels in your body rise. This is a sign to the pancreas to release insulin to use this sugar. This hormone tells the cells to open and enable the glucose to enter. This metabolic process enables the cells and the entire body to use the energy. 

Excess glycogen is stored in the liver for future use. The kidney, too, has a role to play in all this – in a typical person, it makes sure that no glucose is excreted in the urine. In a person with diabetes, with a shortfall of insulin, sugar is released in the urine. 

A person who does not know he has pre-diabetes or even diabetes will pass urine more frequently and drink more water – these are common symptoms of diabetes.

Without insulin, the body simply cannot use the energy. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you need insulin in the body. You either need to take insulin via injections or a pump or take medicines so that the pancreas can make more insulin (in type 2 diabetes). 


The Basal Rate in Diabetes

The basal rate is the amount of insulin that is continuously supplied to the body, also known as background supply. This constant flow is only 50% of the requirement of a person with diabetes. It is also how the human body works – there is some continuous supply to manage body processes, and the rest is covered by increases after you eat. 

You have to take larger doses of insulin when you have type 1 diabetes during meals. When you have type 2 diabetes, you may be required to take medicines at specific times so that insulin production is maintained in your body or your insulin sensitivity increases. 

With an insulin pump, you can set doses and times and program the pump accordingly. This will vary according to your physical activity level and your food intake, health, and many other factors. If you are injecting insulin and not using a pump, your healthcare provider will explain the kind and amount of insulin to take and at what times of the day. 

Long-acting insulin will act for the basal processes, whereas short or rapid-acting insulin will be needed during meal times. 


Insulin and Type 2 Diabetes

When you have type 2 diabetes, you are usually on one or more medicines to enable the pancreas to make more insulin or improve insulin sensitivity to regulate your blood sugar. But there are some conditions when you may need some insulin as well. These include:

  • When you are having surgery
  • When taking some medications that interfere with insulin production
  • When your diet and exercise plans and medicines are not enough to normalize the blood sugar levels
  • When there is an emergency situation, and your blood sugar levels have to stabilize fast
  • When you are not able to meet your treatment goals via oral medicines

Diabetes might progress and, if you have type 2 diabetes, oral medicines may not suffice. Over time, these may not be enough to improve insulin sensitivity or produce more insulin. In such a scenario, you will either need to complement your medicines with insulin or switch over to insulin completely, depending on several factors. 

The basal rate is covered around 50% via basal insulin if you have type 1 diabetes and a varied percentage for type 2 diabetes with oral medication. 

There may be a situation when you need to take bolus insulin. This is a dose of fast or rapid-acting insulin taken before, during, or after a meal to balance the extra calories you take while eating. 

  • People who have type 1 diabetes will take long-acting insulin once or twice a day, which will supplement the basal rate. They will take fast or rapid-acting insulin at mealtimes. The dose will have to balance the sugar intake. 
  • People who have type 2 diabetes may start with basal insulin (if necessary) and then take bolus insulin if that is not sufficient in addition to oral medicines. 

When you take insulin injections via pump or pre-filled pens, you should ideally always keep some sugar or sweet with you. If you feel hypoglycemic or experience low sugar symptoms because you took too much insulin or did not eat enough carbohydrates, immediately take the sugar or sweet to balance the insulin intake. 

In any case, if you have diabetes, you do need to closely monitor your blood sugar levels and go for regular medical check-ups. When you watch your diet, exercise as required, and eat regularly, you can live a long and healthy life despite diabetes. 

Blood sugar testing is a vital part of diabetes management, and your basal rate may be too low if your blood sugar increases by 2mmol/L, or the basal rate may be too high if your blood sugar decreases by 2mmol/L. In either case, you will need to adjust your insulin or medicine dosage. 


Key Takeaways

  • The basal rate is the rate at which insulin is slowly released by the body. Insulin is vital for the body to function, for breathing, blood, heart, brain, and all organs working, regardless of whether you are active or sedentary. 
  • Insulin is necessary for the cells to function. All bodily processes require energy in the form of glycogen to carry out their activities, and this energy can only be released and used thanks to insulin. 
  • Bolus insulin is rapid-acting insulin taken around meal times – this helps balance the extra calorie intake from meals and normalizes blood sugar levels. This may be taken by people with type 1 and even type 2 diabetes (if called for).


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