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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. Aside from a needle, the medication may also be given using a special 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

There are different types of insulin that your doctor may prescribe:

TYPEALSO CALLEDDESCRIPTIONONSETDURATIONGENERIC NAMES
Rapid-acting insulinMealtime insulin

Usually taken before a meal to target the sugars consumed during mealtime

Works quickly and does not last long

Lispro—15 minutes
Aspart—15 minutes
Glulisine—15 minutes
Lispro—3-5 hours
Aspart—3-5 hours
Glulisine—3-5 hours
Lispro
Aspart
Glulisine
Short-acting insulinMealtime insulin

Usually taken before a meal to target the sugars consumed during mealtime

Works quickly and does not last long

30 minutes-1 hour5-8 hoursRegular insulin
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

1-3 hours10-16 hoursNPH
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 hour20-26 hours Glargine
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.

RESOURCES:

American Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.org

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

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_a_to_z_a_guide_on_different_types_of_insulin.html. Accessed March 18, 2014.

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 January 2011. Accessed March 18, 2014.

Insulin management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 9, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2014.

Types of insulin. National Diabetes Information Clearinhouse website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/medicines_ez/insert_C.aspx. Updated February 16, 2012. Accessed March 18, 2014.

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 March 1, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2014.



Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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