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A Complete Guide to the Different Types of Insulin

About 34 million people in the US have diabetes and up 20% of the don’t even know it. Living with diabetes means having to take steps to change the way you live, eat, and even think. It is never easy but it is necessary to maintain our quality of life.

You will likely get started on oral medication but, over time, your physician might feel the need to switch to injectable insulin.

When they start talking to you about the different types of insulin, it can be a little overwhelming. Keep reading to learn more about the options available to you.

Living With Diabetes

When you hear that you need to be started on insulin, you might feel negative thoughts such as worry and confusion. You might feel like it is a lot of information to take on in one doctor’s visit.

Then, you find out that there are different types of insulin. In fact, there are five main types that are classified depending on the onset and duration of effect.

The good news is that you don’t need to go to medical school to learn about them. With time, a helpful doctor, and a willingness to learn, you can take charge of your health.

The Basics of Insulin

Before we can dive into the distinct types of insulin for diabetes treatment. It is important to understand where it comes from.

Insulin a type of hormone produced by the Beta cells of the pancreas. It’s released after a meal, in response to high blood sugar. This stimulates the movement of glucose out of the bloodstream.

People with diabetes might not produce enough insulin or they have grown resistant.

A Beginner’s Guide to The Different Types of Insulin

Which insulin in the best for me? How can I differentiate between all the types of insulin pumps?

These are just some of the questions you may be asking. Read ahead as we guide you through the different types.

Rapid-Acting Insulin

Wondering which type of insulin acts most quickly? As the name suggests, these don’t take long to kick in. Their effect on blood sugar only takes a few minutes.

They peak after about one to three hours and completely taper off after about five.

Humalog (insulin lispro) and NovoRapid (insulin aspart) are some of the most commonly used rapid-acting insulins. Since they cause your blood sugar to lower quickly, it should be taken with a meal.

Short-Acting Insulin

Short-acting insulins include Humulin and Apidra. As you might’ve guessed, they take a little longer to take effect.

They take about 30 minutes to have an effect. Therefore, you should probably inject about a half-hour before eating so that your insulin isn’t going up and down like a roller coaster.

The effect lasts a maximum of about six or eight hours.

Intermediate-Acting Insulin

When your physician talks about basal insulins, they are referring to intermediate and long-acting insulins. We wouldn’t say you can just inject ’em and forget ’em but they are useful for keeping your blood sugar controlled throughout the day.

The intermediates take about at least an hour to start working. They can hit their peak anywhere from 4 to 12 hours after injection. However, they last about 16 to 24 hours.

Humulin NPH is one of the most used insulins in this group. The NPH stands for Neutral Protamine Hagedorn. It is a protein that is added to insulin to ensure it is slowly absorbed into the bloodstream, prolonging its effect.

Long-Acting Insulins

Long-acting insulins are a favorite among both patients and doctors. They are quite useful in people with difficult to control diabetes.

There are several types worth mentioning, include Toujeo, Lantus, and Levemir.

Glargine Insulin

This is sold commercially as Toujeo. It has the distinction of being one of the most powerful diabetes drugs on the market. In fact, its strength is 300 units/mL, making it three times as potent as other long-acting insulins.

This lasts for about a whole 24 hours. It is only given in a disposable pen to avoid the risk of a dangerous overdose.

Compared with other insulins, these tend to peak slowly, lowering the risk of hypoglycemia.

‘Peakless Glargine’

Lantus, often referred to as ‘peakless’ insulin, allows for a safe, steady insulin release. A single injection lasts a full day.

Unlike Toujeo, Lantus has a strength of 100/mL. This gives you much more wiggling room to get the dosage right.

Generally, your physician would start you at one injection a day but it can sometimes be taken daily, given the situation.


Levemir (detemir insulin) sounds like it should be a character in Lord of the Rings.

No, it won’t guide you to Mordor, but it can help you control problematic blood sugar.

Levemir lasts for about 18 hours and is often injected twice a day. Like Lantus, there is no discernible peak.

Mixed Insulin

The problem with short-acting insulin is that you would need to inject yourselves multiple times a day.

The problem with long-acting insulins is that they take a while to get take effect, leaving your blood sugar uncontrolled for hours

This why mixed insulin was invented. They contain a pre-mixed preparation of shorter and longer-acting insulins.

How Does it Work?

Mixed insulins are used because they cover all the bases, so to speak. This provides you with blood sugar control throughout the day.

For example, the Humalog Mix 25 contains 25% rapid-acting insulin and 75% Humulin NPH. In this case, the rapid-acting insulin works to immediately lower your blood sugar and, once this begins to taper off, the long-act insulin is starting to take effect.

The alternative to this requirers multiple injections throughout the day depending on your meal schedule.

Dealing with The Highs and The Lows

Living with diabetes is a special challenge. We all have good and bad days, but people with diabetes really know what it is like to live with the “highs and lows.”

The key is to maintain your blood sugar within the normal range at all times If you do this, your A1c will go down and your risk of diabetic-related pathology goes down.

Each of the different types of insulin has a place and time, whether it is used in combination or alone. Visit our blog to learn more about the latest in pharmaceutical advice and news.

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