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Diabetes Health Center

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Types of Insulin - Topic Overview

Insulin is used to treat people who have diabetes. Each type of insulin acts over a specific amount of time. The amount of time can be affected by exercise, diet, illness, some medicines, stress, the dose, and where the insulin has been injected.

Insulin strength is usually U-100, or 100 units of insulin in one milliliter of fluid. Short-acting (regular) insulin is also available in U-500, or 500 units of insulin in one milliliter of fluid. This is five times more concentrated than U-100 regular insulin.

Insulin is made by different companies. Make sure you use the same type of insulin consistently.

Types of insulin




When it starts to work (onset)

The time of greatest effect (peak)

How long it lasts (duration)


Apidra (insulin glulisine)


5-15 minutes

30-60 minutes

3-5 hours

Humalog (insulin lispro)


5-15 minutes

30-90 minutes

3-5 hours

NovoLog (insulin aspart)


5-15 minutes

40-50 minutes

3-5 hours


Humulin R, Novolin R (insulin regular)


30 minutes

1½-2 hours

6-8 hours


Humulin N, Novolin N (insulin NPH)


1-4 hours

4-12 hours

14-24 hours


Lantus (insulin glargine)


1-2 hours

Minimal peak

Up to 24 hours

Levemir (insulin detemir)


2 hours

Minimal peak

Up to 24 hours

Rapid-acting insulins work over a narrow, more predictable range of time. Because they work quickly, they are used most often at the start of a meal. Rapid-acting insulin acts most like insulin that is produced by the human pancreas. It quickly drops the blood sugar level and works for a short time. If a rapid-acting insulin is used instead of a short-acting insulin at the start of dinner, it may prevent severe drops in blood sugar level in the middle of the night.

Short-acting insulins take effect and wear off more quickly than long-acting insulins. A short-acting insulin is often used 30 minutes before a meal so that it has time to work. These liquid insulins are clear and do not settle out when the bottle (vial) sits for a while.

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