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PD Medicine and Healthcare MHE 046 Insulin is a hormone in the body that helps control glucose levels in the blood. It helps transport glucose from the bloodstream to the cells for energy. Glucose is needed by all cells to perform their functions.

People with type 1 diabetes are unable to make insulin. While those with type 2 diabetes can make insulin, the body is resistant to it and unable to use it appropriately. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and the cells become starved, which can lead to serious health problems.

Insulin Shots

If you have diabetes, you may need to take insulin shots to make up for your body’s inability to make or use naturally occurring insulin. You may need anywhere from 1-4 shots a day. The medication may also be given using a special injector pen or pump.

How much insulin you need depends on several factors, such as your:

  • Body weight
  • Body fat percentage
  • Physical activity level
  • Diet
  • Other medications that you take
  • Emotional health, including your level of stress
  • Overall health

Insulin Types

Here are different types of insulin that your doctor may prescribe and an approximate onset and duration of action:

TYPE ALSO CALLED DESCRIPTION ONSET DURATION GENERIC NAMES
Rapid-acting insulin Mealtime insulin

Usually taken before a meal to target the sugars consumed during mealtime Works quickly and does not last long

Lispro—5-30 minutes Aspart—5-30 minutes Glulisine—5-30 minutes Lispro—3-5 hours Aspart—3-5 hours Glulisine—3-5 hours Lispro Aspart Glulisine
Short-acting insulin Mealtime insulin

Usually taken before a meal to target the sugars consumed during mealtime Works quickly and does not last long

30-60 minutes 5-12 hours Regular insulin (U-100)
Intermediate-acting insulin Basal insulin Background insulin

Keeps blood sugar under control after rapid-acting insulin has stopped working Slowly absorbed by the body and is long-lasting

2-4 hours 10-18 hours NPH
Long-acting insulin Basal insulin Background insulin

Keeps blood sugar under control after rapid-acting insulin has stopped working Slowly absorbed by the body and is long-lasting

1-4 hours 18-24 hours Glargine (U-100) Detemir

There is also premixed insulin, which is a combination of two types. The mix usually consists of rapid- or short-acting insulin combined with intermediate-acting insulin.

You and your doctor will create a diabetes management plan that will outline steps for controlling your diabetes, which involves diet, physical activity, and medications like insulin. You may need to try different insulin doses or types until you find the regimen that works best for you.

  • American Diabetes Association

    http://www.diabetes.org

  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

    http://www.niddk.nih.gov

  • Canadian Diabetes Association

    http://www.diabetes.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Blair E. Insulin A to Z: a guide on different types of insulin. Joslin Diabetes Center website. Available at: http://www.joslin.org/info/insulin%5Fa%5Fto%5Fz%5Fa%5Fguide%5Fon%5Fdifferent%5Ftypes%5Fof%5Finsulin.html. Accessed July 14, 2015.

  • Diabetes: Insulin therapy. American Academy of Family Physcians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/diabetes/treatment/insulin-therapy.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed July 14, 2015.

  • Insulin management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 20, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2015.

  • Types of insulin. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/diabetes-medicines/Pages/insert%5FC.aspx. Accessed July 14, 2015.

  • Types of insulin and how they work. Group Health website. Available at: https://www.ghc.org/healthAndWellness/index.jhtml?item=%2fcommon%2fhealthAndWellness%2fconditions%2fdiabetes%2finsulinTypes.html. Updated June 12, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2015.