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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

Type

Examples

Appearance

When it starts to work (onset)

The time of greatest effect (peak)

How long it lasts (duration)

Rapid-acting

     
 

Apidra (insulin glulisine)

Clear

5–15 minutes

30–60 minutes

3–5 hours

 

Humalog (insulin lispro)

Clear

5–15 minutes

30–90 minutes

3–5 hours

 

NovoLog (insulin aspart)

Clear

5–15 minutes

40–50 minutes

3–5 hours

Short-acting

     
 

Humulin R, Novolin R (insulin regular)

Clear

30 minutes

1½–2 hours

6–8 hours

Intermediate-acting

     
 

Humulin N, Novolin N (insulin NPH)

Cloudy

1–4 hours

4–12 hours

14–24 hours

Long-acting

     
 

Lantus (insulin glargine)

Clear

1–2 hours

Minimal peak

Up to 24 hours

 

Levemir (insulin detemir)

Clear

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.

Intermediate- and long-acting insulins contain added substances (buffers) that make them work over a long time and that may make them look cloudy. When these types of insulin sit for even a few minutes, the buffered insulin settles to the bottom of the vial. But insulin glargine (Lantus) and insulin detemir (Levemir) are clear liquids (not cloudy).

Mixtures of insulin can sometimes be combined in the same syringe, for example, intermediate-acting and rapid- or short-acting insulin. Not all insulins can be mixed together.

For convenience, there are premixed rapid- and intermediate-acting insulin. The insulin will start to work as quickly as the fastest-acting insulin in the combination. It will peak when each type of insulin typically peaks, and it will last as long as the longest-acting insulin. Examples include:

  • 70% NPH and 30% regular (Humulin 70/30, Novolin 70/30).
  • 50% lispro protamine and 50% lispro (Humalog Mix 50/50).
  • 75% lispro protamine and 25% lispro (Humalog Mix 75/25).
  • 70% aspart protamine and 30% aspart (NovoLog Mix 70/30).
  • 50% NPH and 50% regular (Humulin 50/50).
1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 26, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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