Not all insulin varieties work the same way.
Insulin is a popular option for diabetes management—nearly one-third of people with diabetes use some form of it alone or in combination with other medication. There are many different types of insulin for diabetes, which gives people who require it options that fit their medical needs and lifestyle.
If you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin to help your body process glucose from food. A person with type 2 diabetes may or may not need insulin depending on how well they manage the disease through diet, exercise, and other medications, or how well their body responds to the insulin it produces.
Types of Insulin
Different varieties of insulin can be effective for different people, and understanding the distinctions is an important part of health management.
Rapid-acting: This insulin starts working in as little as fifteen minutes and is usually taken just before a meal. It reaches peak effectiveness after about one hour and remains effective for two to four hours. This variety is usually taken in combination with a longer-acting insulin.
Regular or short-acting: This type starts working after about thirty minutes, peaks between two to three hours, and continues to work for three to six hours. It is typically given about a half-hour before a meal and is often used with a longer-acting insulin.
Intermediate-acting: This variety reaches the bloodstream in two to four hours, peaks in four to twelve hours, and remains effective for twelve to eighteen hours. It is typically given about two hours prior to a meal.
Long-acting: This insulin takes effect after several hours and typically helps lower glucose at a steady rate for twenty-four hours. It is sometimes used with the shorter acting ones to help maintain glucose levels after the rapid- or short-acting doses stop working.
Pre-mixed: This type of insulin is a premixed combination of an intermediate-acting insulin with either a short or rapid-acting insulin in one bottle or insulin pen. The pre-mixed option is useful for people with poor eyesight or dexterity who can't read directions well or have trouble mixing products.
Inhaled: This new rapid-acting insulin, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014, is inhaled using a nebulizer—similar to the way you would take asthma medication. It starts acting in about fifteen minutes, peaks in thirty, and stays in your system for about ninety minutes. As with other rapid-acting insulins, you need to take this with a longer-acting type as well.
What's Right for You?
You and your doctor will decide the best insulin regimen for you based on a number of factors. Some of those factors include:
- How much you exercise
- How much you weigh
- Your diet
- Your blood sugar levels
- How long you've had diabetes
- How your body responds to insulin
- How much alcohol you drink
- Your age
- How comfortable you are giving yourself multiple shots a day
- Your overall health
- Other medications you're taking
People with type 2 diabetes may be able to stop using insulin if they can manage blood glucose levels through weight loss and lifestyle and diet changes, though certain conditions such as pregnancy, surgery, broken bones, or cancer treatment may require a person to temporarily rely on insulin even if they have good habits.
Insulin is an important part of diabetes management for many people, and staying informed about the different varieties is a great way make sure you stay healthy.
By Joelle Klein
Diabetes Education Online, Premixed Insulin
CDC.gov, Diabetes Public Health Resources
Joslin Diabetes Center, Insulin A to Z: A Guide on Different Types of Insulin
American Diabetes Association, Insulin Basics