Finding the Right Insulin

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Although people with diabetes share the same disease, they have different lifestyles, habits, and health concerns. Thankfully, there are several different types of insulin, which allow doctors to tailor treatment plans to each patient. Finding the type that works best for you can make taking insulin easier—and help you feel better in the process.

Understanding Types of Insulin

Insulin can vary in how quickly it works, when it peaks, and how long it lasts. Choosing the right one may depend on many factors: the type of diabetes you have, lifestyle issues, such as when you eat and how much you exercise, how your body responds to insulin, and how often you’re willing to check your blood glucose or give yourself injections.

There are four main types of insulin:

  1. Rapid-acting insulin is used before meals to help control the rise of blood sugar after eating. It works more quickly and may be better for those who have difficulty timing their meals with their insulin. This insulin reaches the bloodstream about 5 to 15 minutes after injection, peaks in about 1 hour, and works for 2 to 5 hours. Common types include Humalog (lispro), NovoLog (aspart), and Apidra (glulisine).

  2. Regular or short-acting insulin typically begins to work within 30 minutes after injection, peaks about 2 to 3 hours after injection, and is effective for approximately 3 to 8 hours.

  3. Intermediate-acting insulin, such as insulin NPH, reaches the bloodstream about 2 to 4 hours after injection, peaks 4 to 12 hours later, and works for about 12 to 18 hours.

  4. Long-acting insulin reaches the bloodstream 6 to 10 hours after injection and is typically effective for 20 to 24 hours.

Premixed insulin includes a combination of a faster-acting insulin and a longer-lasting insulin. It may be the right choice for people who have difficulty mixing the correct dosages.

Ways to Administer Insulin

In addition to finding the type of insulin that works with your body and lifestyle, your doctor will help you decide the best way to administer it. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. What works for one person may not work for another.

Injection  with a syringe is the most common method of delivery. Using a syringe can be easy to learn but does require the user to carefully draw and measure the insulin, which can lead to dosing errors. People who are uncomfortable with needles may have a hard time giving themselves injections.

Insulin pumps are small, beeper-sized devices that can deliver both long-lasting and fast-acting insulin 24 hours a day though a catheter placed under the skin. A pump requires the user to input his or her carbohydrate intake and blood glucose. It then automatically calculates and administers the insulin.

Some studies have found that people with diabetes have better blood glucose control and a higher quality of life with a pump versus daily injections. Pump delivery is more comfortable for people who dislike needles. It’s also easy to use for people of all ages, including infants. However, people who use an insulin pump are connected to the device most of the time, which can serve as a constant reminder of the disease.

Insulin pens look like regular pens except for the fine, short needle on the tip. The pen is filled with insulin, which makes injection easy. The user inputs the insulin dose amount on the pen, and the insulin is injected through the needle.

The pen is portable and can be easily thrown in a purse or pocket. It can benefit people with poor eyesight or dexterity, who may have trouble drawing and injecting themselves with insulin.

Ongoing Advances

Scientists are currently making advances in the types of insulin and delivery options available, promising to make insulin therapy easier and more tolerable to the millions of people who take it for blood glucose control. It’s important to work closely with your doctor to discuss your changing needs and find the insulin that’s right for you.

Key Takeaways:

  • Insulin can vary in how quickly it works, when it peaks, and how long it lasts.

  • There are four main types: rapid-acting insulin, regular or short-acting insulin, intermediate-acting insulin, and long-acting insulin.

  • Insulin can be administered via a syringe, pump, or pen.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 20

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  3. Insulin (and other injected drugs.) American Diabetes Association. (;

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  6. Insulin Routines. American Diabetes Association. (;

  7. Diabetes and Insulin Therapy. Hormone Health Network. Apr. 2012. (;

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