Mayo Clinic Health Library

Insulin: Compare common options for insulin therapy

Updated: 07-30-2013

Insulin therapy is a critical part of treatment for those with type 1 diabetes and also for many with type 2 diabetes. The goal of insulin therapy is to maintain blood sugar levels within your target range. Insulin is usually administered in the fat under your skin using a syringe, insulin pen or insulin pump. Which insulin regimen is best for you depends on factors such as the type of diabetes you have, how much your blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day and your lifestyle.

Each insulin type is characterized by:

  • Onset — how long it takes to begin working
  • Peak — when it's working the hardest
  • Duration — how long it lasts

Many types of insulin are available. Here's how they compare. Keep in mind that your doctor may prescribe a mixture of insulin types to use throughout the day and night.

Insulin type Generic and brand names Onset Peak Duration
Rapid-acting

Insulin aspart (NovoLog)

Insulin glulisine (Apidra)

Insulin lispro (Humalog)

15 minutes 30 to 90 minutes 3 to 5 hours
Short-acting

Insulin regular (Humulin R, Novolin R)

30 to 60 minutes 2 to 4 hours 5 to 8 hours
Intermediate-acting Insulin NPH human (Humulin N, Novolin N) 1 to 3 hours 8 hours 12 to 16 hours
Long-acting

Insulin glargine (Lantus)

Insulin detemir (Levemir)

1 hour No clear peak 20 to 26 hours

In some cases, pre-mixed insulin — a combination of specific proportions of intermediate-acting and short- or rapid-acting insulin in one bottle or insulin pen — may be an option.

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