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Types of Insulin for Diabetes Treatment

Many forms of insulin treat diabetes. They're grouped by how fast they start to work and how long their effects last.

The types of insulin include:

  • Rapid-acting
  • Short-acting
  • Intermediate-acting
  • Long-acting
  • Pre-mixed

What Type of Insulin Is Best for My Diabetes?

Your doctor will work with you to prescribe the type of insulin that's best for you and your diabetes. Making that choice will depend on many things, including:

  • How you respond to insulin. (How long it takes the body to absorb it and how long it remains active varies from person to person.)
  • Lifestyle choices. The type of food you eat, how much alcohol you drink, or how much exercise you get will all affect how your body uses insulin.
  • Your willingness to give yourself multiple injections per day
  • How often you check your blood sugar
  • Your age
  • Your goals for managing your blood sugar

Afrezza, a rapid-acting inhaled insulin, is now FDA-approved for use before meals for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The drug peaks in your blood in about 15-20 minutes, researchers say, and it clears your body in 2-3 hours. It must be used along with long-acting insulin in people with type 1 diabetes.

The chart below lists the types of injectable insulin with details about onset (the length of time before insulin reaches the bloodstream and begins to lower blood sugar), peak (the time period when it best lowers blood sugar) and duration (how long insulin continues to work). These three things may vary. The final column offers some insight into the "coverage" provided by the different insulin types in relation to mealtime.

Type of Insulin & Brand NamesOnsetPeakDurationRole in Blood Sugar Management
Rapid-Acting
Lispro (Humalog)15-30 min.30-90 min3-5 hoursRapid-acting insulin covers insulin needs for meals eaten at the same time as the injection. This type of insulin is often used with longer-acting insulin.
Aspart (Novolog)10-20 min.40-50 min.3-5 hours
Glulisine (Apidra)20-30 min.30-90 min.1-2½ hours
Short-Acting
Regular (R) humulin or novolin30 min. -1 hour2-5 hours5-8 hoursShort-acting insulin covers insulin needs for meals eaten within 30-60 minutes.
Velosulin (for use in the insulin pump)30 min.-1 hour2-3 hours2-3 hours
Intermediate-Acting
NPH (N)1-2 hours4-12 hours18-24 hoursIntermediate-acting insulin covers insulin needs for about half the day or overnight. This type of insulin is often combined with a rapid- or short-acting type.
Long-Acting
Long-acting insulin covers insulin needs for about one full day. This type is often combined, when needed, with rapid- or short-acting insulin.
Insulin glargine (Lantus)1-1½ hourNo peak time. Insulin is delivered at a steady level.20-24 hours
Insulin detemir (Levemir)1-2 hours6-8 hoursUp to 24 hours
Pre-Mixed*
Humulin 70/3030 min.2-4 hours14-24 hoursThese products are generally taken two or three times a day before mealtime.
Novolin 70/3030 min.2-12 hoursUp to 24 hours
Novolog 70/3010-20 min.1-4 hoursUp to 24 hours
Humulin 50/5030 min.2-5 hours18-24 hours
Humalog mix 75/2515 min.30 min.-2½ hours16-20 hours
*Premixed insulins combine specific amounts of intermediate-acting and short-acting insulin in one bottle or insulin pen. (The numbers following the brand name indicate the percentage of each type of insulin.)

 

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