How Do Different Types of Insulin Work?

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There are many types of insulin and they are not all created equal. Each kind has its own unique action and they are not interchangeable. The chart below will help you understand how the various insulin medications work and why your doctor has prescribed them for you.

Insulin is injected into the fat tissue, which helps it absorb into the bloodstream. Some insulin medications work faster than others, but don't last as long. And some insulins last longer, but work more gradually than others.

Characteristics of Insulin Action

There are three characteristics that define types of insulin.

  1. Onset: How long it takes for the insulin to start lowering blood glucose
  2. Peak time: Time after injection when the insulin is the most effective at lowering blood glucose
  3. Duration: How long the insulin keeps lowering blood glucose

Insulin is prescribed by matching the characteristics of a particular insulin with the individual needs of the patient. Some people are on only one kind of insulin, while others take a combination of insulin medication to customize good glucose control.

Types of Insulin

There are six main types of insulin available.

  1. Rapid-acting: These include Apidra, Humalog, and Novolog. They have an onset in less than 15 minutes, peak in 30 to 90 minutes, and duration of two to four hours.
  2. Regular (short-acting): These include Humulin R and Novolin R. They have an onset of a half an hour, a peak of two to three hours, and duration of three to six hours.
  3. Intermediate-acting: These include Humulin N and Novolin N. They have an onset of two to four hours, a peak at four to 12 hours, and duration of 12 to 18 hours.
  4. Long-acting: These include Levemir and Lantus. They have an onset of several hours, minimal or no peak, and a duration of 24 hours or more.
  5. Ultra long-acting: These include Toujeo. They have an onset of six hours, no peak, and a duration of 36 hours.
  6. Combinations/pre-mixed: These combine intermediate-acting insulins with regular insulin and are convenient for people who need to use both. These include mixtures of Humulin or Novoline, Novolog Mix, and Humalog Mix. See the chart for actions.
  7. Inhaled insulin: This became available in 2015 and is used in combination with long-acting insulin. Afrezza has an onset of 12 to 15 minutes, a peak of 30 minutes, and duration of three hours.

Insulin Types and Actions Chart

This chart covers the different types of insulin, how long it takes to start lowering blood sugar when the peak of action will occur, and how long it will continue to work. Be sure to read the product information provided with your medication and follow the instructions from your doctor and pharmacist for using insulin.

Brand Name Generic Name Type Onset Peak Duration
Apidra Insulin Glulisine Rapid Acting 15 minutes 1 hour 2-4 hours
Humalog Insulin Lispro Rapid Acting 15 minutes 1 hour 2-4 hours
NovoLog Insulin Aspart Rapid Acting 15 minutes 1 hour 2-4 hours
Humulin R Human Regular Regular - Short Acting 30 minutes 2-3 hours 3-6 hours
Novolin R Human Regular Regular - Short Acting 30 minutes 2-3 hours 3-6 hours
Humulin N NPH Intermediate Acting 2-4 hours 4-12 hours 12-18 hours
Novolin N NPH Intermediate Acting 2-4 hours 4-12 hours 12-18 hours
Levemir Insulin Detemir Long Acting Several hours No peak  24 hours
Lantus Insulin Glargine Long Acting Several hours No peak 24 hours
Humulin or Novolin 70/30   Combination/Pre-Mixed 30 minutes - 1 hour 3.5 hours 18-24 hours
Novolog Mix 70/30   Combination/Pre-Mixed Less than 15 minutes 1-4 hours Up to 24 hours
Humalog Mix 75/25 or 50/50   Combination/Pre-Mixed Less than 15 minutes 1-6 hours 13-22 hours
Toujeo Insulin Glargine u-300 Ultra Long-Acting 6 hours No peak Up to 36 hours
Afrezza   Inhaled 12-15 minutes 30 minutes 1.5-4 hours
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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Insulin, medicines, & other diabetes treatments. Updated December 2016.

  2. American Diabetes Association. Insulin basics.

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