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Insulin for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Table of Contents

Insulin for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes


The different types of insulin are categorized according to how fast they start to work (onset) and how long they continue to work (duration). The types now available include rapid-, short-, intermediate-, and long-acting insulin.


Generic NameBrand Name
insulin aspartNovoLog
insulin glulisineApidra
insulin lisproHumalog


Generic NameBrand Name
insulin regularHumulin R, Novolin R, Humulin R U-500


Generic NameBrand Name
insulin NPHHumulin N, Novolin N


Generic NameBrand Name
insulin detemirLevemir
insulin glargineLantus


Generic NameBrand Name
70% NPH and 30% regularHumulin 70/30, Novolin 70/30
50% lispro protamine and 50% lisproHumalog Mix 50/50
75% lispro protamine and 25% lisproHumalog Mix 75/25
70% aspart protamine and 30% aspartNovoLog Mix 70/30
50% NPH and 50% regularHumulin 50/50


Injectable insulin is packaged in small glass vials (bottles) and cartridges that hold more than one dose and are sealed with rubber lids. The cartridges are used in pen-shaped devices called insulin pens.

How insulin is taken

Insulin usually is given as an injection into the tissues under the skin (subcutaneous). It can also be given through an insulin pump, an insulin pen, or jet injector, a device that sprays the medicine into the skin. Some insulins can be given through a vein (only in a hospital).

Research is ongoing to develop not only new forms of insulin but also insulin that can be taken in other ways, such as by mouth.

How It Works

Insulin lets sugar (glucose) in the blood enter cells, where it is used for energy. Without insulin, the blood sugar level rises above what is safe for the body. If the cells don't get sugar to use for energy, they try to use other nutrients in the body. When this happens, acids can build up. Too much acid production (ketoacidosis) can be serious or even life-threatening.

Your body uses insulin in different ways. Sometimes you need insulin to work quickly to reduce blood sugar. Your body also needs insulin on a regular basis to keep your blood sugar in a target range.

Why It Is Used

Insulin is used to treat:

How Well It Works

Insulin is effective in reducing blood sugar levels by helping sugar (glucose) enter the cells to be used for energy.

Some things that affect how fast and how well an insulin dose works are:

Know how to give an insulin injection.

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Diabetes: Giving Yourself an Insulin Shot
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Diabetes in Children: Giving Insulin Shots to a Child

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

The insulin pump provides a way to give insulin with less frequent injections, and it is as effective as multiple daily injections at keeping blood sugar levels in a target range.

The long-acting insulin glargine (Lantus) may help prevent some people from having frequent nighttime low blood sugar levels. It may also help people who have had difficulty keeping their blood sugar levels in their target range with intermediate-acting insulin.

Giving short-acting insulin at the evening meal and NPH at bedtime instead of giving them together at the evening meal may reduce the risk of nocturnal hypoglycemia and hypoglycemia unawareness.

Things to check

Label each insulin bottle when you use it for the first time.

Store insulin properly so that its effectiveness is protected.

When you buy insulin, check the generic or brand names to make sure you are buying the correct type. For example, if you have been using Humulin R (insulin regular), make sure you buy Humulin R instead of Humulin N (insulin NPH).

Know when your prescribed types of insulin start working (onset), when they work most (peak), and how long they work (duration).

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) to help you understand this medication.

Credits for Insulin for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Last Revised July 11, 2013

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