University of Illinois Extension

What are the Types of Insulin?

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Insulin is classified based on how quickly it takes effect.  There are four categories:

types of insulin

  • Rapid acting should be taken just before or just after eating.  It begins to lower blood glucose in less than 15 minutes. It continues to work for about 2 to 4 hours. Common rapid acting insulins include Insulin glulisine (Apidra), insulin lispro (Humalog), and insulin aspart (NovoLog).
  • Short acting should be taken 30 minutes before a meal.  It begins to lower blood glucose within 30 minutes to 1 hour. It lasts for about 3 to 6 hours. Common types are Humulin R and Novolin R.
  • Intermediate acting has an effect for 14-20 hours, depending on the type, so it is typically only taken once per day. Common types are NPH such as Humulin N or Novolin N.
  • Long acting has an effect for 20-30 hours, depending on the type, so it is only taken once per day. This basal insulin has no peak. It is taken once per day. Common types include insulin detemir (Levemir) and insulin glargine (Lantus).

Insulin can be packaged in vials, pens/cartridges, or inhaled. There are also pre-mixed insulins that contain a combination of insulin types described above.

Characteristics to consider with your insulin include

  • Onset - how quickly it will start working
  • Peak - the time when the insulin is most effective in lowering blood glucose. Note that basal insulin has no peak so is always the same in terms of effectiveness.
  • Duration - how long it continues to have an effect on your blood glucose
  • Strength - the most common strength is U-100, which means it has 100 units of insulin per 1 milliliter of fluid. Insulin at U-500 and U-40 are available in some countries.

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This document is a source of information only, and is not medical advice.