Insulin Overdose: What To Do If You Take Too Much Insulin

Insulin is a vital hormone used to regulate blood sugar (glucose) in the body; however, taking too much insulin can be dangerous. 

Insulin is produced naturally in the body by the pancreas, but for some people with diabetes, their pancreas does not produce enough. 

Therefore, diabetics might have to inject themselves with insulin and keep an eye on their blood sugar levels themselves. 

Whilst injecting insulin can be of huge benefit for people who have diabetes, too much can lead to serious consequences, which we will explore further in this article.

Keep reading to learn the symptoms of an insulin overdose, what you should do if you take too much insulin, and how to avoid an insulin overdose.

Can you overdose on insulin? 

Yes, you can overdose on insulin. The type and dose of insulin prescribed varies from person to person and is often adjusted based on an individual’s blood sugar readings and the type of meals they eat. 

Therefore, a dose that is suitable for one person could cause an insulin overdose in another person. 

Typically, a diabetic person will require two types of insulin: basal insulin (slow-acting) and bolus insulin (quick-acting). 

Basal insulin is usually taken once or twice a day to give a slow-acting baseline level of insulin, whereas bolus insulin is taken with meals to avoid a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.  

It is possible to overdose on every type of insulin, although typically, an overdose of bolus insulin is more dangerous, as it causes a more rapid drop in blood sugar levels. 

The dose of bolus insulin is often adjusted based on the current meal and blood sugar levels, and this added complexity in the dosing causes people with diabetes to be at additional risk of accidentally injecting themselves with too much insulin.

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How much insulin is too much?

Insulin doses vary from person to person, so there is no strict guide to say exactly how much insulin is too much. 

However, if you take a higher dose of insulin than you are prescribed without the advice of a specialist, that would be classed as an overdose and has the potential to cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). 

Therefore, it is best to stick to your prescribed dose range to avoid any adverse effects of low blood sugar on the body.

Signs and symptoms of an insulin overdosage

Following an insulin overdose, too much sugar can leave the blood, which causes low blood sugar. 

Symptoms of this can range from mild to severe, with more mild symptoms including:

  • Irritability 
  • Shakiness
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Hunger
  • Blurred or double vision

You are likely to continue to have symptoms until your blood sugar returns to normal. 

However, severe hypoglycemia can cause significantly worse symptoms, including:

  • Lethargy 
  • Confusion 
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Death

Due to the severity of the possible complications of insulin overdose, it is vital to be able to recognize all the symptoms, even the most mild, and take the appropriate action.

What can happen if you take too much insulin?

If untreated, an insulin overdose can cause severe complications, including seizures and death, so you need to take immediate action if you or someone with you experience an insulin overdose.

What to do if you take too much insulin

If you find that you or someone you are with has had an insulin overdose, the key thing to remember is not to panic. 

Treating insulin overdosages with mild symptoms

If you’ve injected too much insulin and have some of the mild symptoms listed above, such as weakness or shakiness, you should immediately have food or drink that contains fast-acting sugar to increase blood sugar levels rapidly. 

Examples of fast-acting sources of sugar include:

  • Sugary drinks, such as fruit juices, sodas, or sports drinks
  • A spoonful of honey 
  • A spoonful of sugar or a sugar lump
  • Candy or chocolate
  • A glucose tablet or gel
  • A small piece of fruit, such as a banana or raisins

These sources of sugar are recommended as they are rapidly absorbed by the body and can help raise blood sugar levels in a matter of minutes. 

After the symptoms have started to resolve, blood sugar levels should be checked to ensure they have returned to within the normal range. 

Even if you have successfully treated an insulin overdose with a source of fast-acting sugar and the symptoms have resolved, it is still recommended to seek medical advice.

Treating an insulin overdose with severe symptoms

If someone is having severe symptoms of low blood sugar following an insulin overdose, for example, if they are having seizures or have become unconscious, you should immediately call 911 and ask for an ambulance. 

Do not try to give someone who is unconscious something to eat or drink, as there is a high risk that it could go into their airway and cause them to choke. 

The emergency medical team might give glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar levels, and this can be administered either into the muscle or directly into a vein. 

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How to avoid accidentally overdosing on insulin

There are several things you can do to help reduce your chance of accidentally giving yourself too much insulin, such as:

Learn how to use your insulin pen correctly

When you are first given an insulin pen or you are switched to a new device, talk to your healthcare professional and familiarize yourself with the instructions to ensure you are 100% confident with how to use it. 

Take particular care when adjusting the dose, and spend time practicing before you inject yourself with the insulin.

Regularly check your blood glucose

Monitor your blood sugar levels regularly and adjust your insulin dose accordingly, as per the instructions from your healthcare professional. 

Adjust your insulin dose when needed

Remember to adjust your bolus insulin dose based on your meals as well as your blood sugar levels.

Double-check the dose before injecting

Once you have calculated how much insulin you are going to inject and have prepared it in your device, ask someone who is with you to double-check that the dose you plan to give correlates to what is prepared in your device.

It is recommended that you have an open line of communication with your healthcare professional to quickly address any queries or concerns you have. 

Intentional insulin overdoses 

There have been several articles acknowledging that insulin overdoses have been given intentionally by some people with mental health difficulties as a way to self-harm or with suicidal intent. 

It is also noted that people who have diabetes are more likely to experience depression, making this an even more prominent issue. 

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problems, please speak to a medical professional as soon as possible. 

If you are worried about the mental health of a friend or family member, please reach out to them and support them as much as you can.


  • Insulin is a crucial hormone for regulating blood sugar levels. However, for individuals who have diabetes who have to self-administer insulin, its potential for overdose poses serious health risks. 
  • Too much insulin can cause low blood sugar, and being able to recognize the symptoms of this, ranging from mild to severe, is vital for prompt intervention. 
  • If someone is having mild symptoms of low blood sugar following administering too much insulin, they should have some fast-acting sugar, such as soda or candy, as soon as possible.
  • If someone has severe symptoms of low blood sugar, such as seizures or unconsciousness, please call 911 without delay to ensure they can be given emergency treatment and taken to hospital as soon as possible. 
  • To avoid unintentional insulin overdoses, remember to be cautious with insulin administration, seek guidance from healthcare professionals, and regularly monitor blood sugar levels. 
  • Having diabetes has been linked to higher rates of depression, so please seek the help of a medical professional if you or someone you know is experiencing any mental health problems.

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  2. Rahman MS, Hossain KS, Das S, Kundu S, Adegoke EO, Rahman MA, Hannan MA, Uddin MJ, Pang MG. Role of Insulin in Health and Disease: An Update. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jun 15;22(12):6403. doi: 10.3390/ijms22126403. PMID: 34203830; PMCID: PMC8232639.
  3. Mégarbane B, Deye N, Bloch V, Sonneville R, Collet C, Launay JM, Baud FJ. Intentional overdose with insulin: prognostic factors and toxicokinetic/toxicodynamic profiles. Crit Care. 2007;11(5):R115. doi: 10.1186/cc6168. PMID: 17963523; PMCID: PMC2556768.
  4. tyle=”font-weight: 400;” aria-level=”1″>Russell KS, Stevens JR, Stern TA. Insulin overdose among patients with diabetes: a readily available means of suicide. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;11(5):258-62. doi: 10.4088/PCC.09r00802. PMID: 19956464; PMCID: PMC2781038.
  5. Gundgurthi A, Kharb S, Dutta MK, Pakhetra R, Garg MK. Insulin poisoning with suicidal intent. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Mar;16 Suppl 1(Suppl1):S120-2. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.94254. PMID: 22701832; PMCID: PMC3354941.

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