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Insulin Action Reference Chart

Insulin Action Reference Chart


Updated June 17, 2014

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. Which insulin is right for you? 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 blood stream. Some insulin medications work faster than others but don't last as long, and some insulins last longer but work more gradually than others.

There are three characteristics that define types of insulin.

  • Onset: How long it takes for the insulin to start lowering blood glucose.
  • Peak Time: Time after injection when the insulin is the most effective at lowering blood glucose.
  • 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.

There are four main types of insulin available.

  • Rapid acting
  • Regular
  • Intermediate acting
  • Long acting

There are also pre-mixed insulins. These combine intermediate acting insulins with regular insulin and are convenient for people who need to use both.


"2007 Resource Guide." Diabetes Forecast January 2007: 13-18.

"Insulin Action." Learn About Diabetes. 2006. Joslin Diabetes Center. 12 Dec 2006.

Insulin Types and Actions

Brand Name Generic Name Onset Peak Duration
Apidra Insulin Glulisine <15 minutes 1-2 hours 3-4 hours
Humalog Insulin Lispro <15 minutes 1-2 hours 3-4 hours
Novolog Insulin Aspart <15 minutes 1-2 hours 3-4 hours
Humulin R Regular 1/2 - 1 hour 2-3 hours 3-6 hours
Novolin R Regular 1/2 - 1 hour 2-3 hours 3-6 hours
Humulin N NPH 2-4 hours 4-10 hours 10-16 hours
Novolin N NPH 2-4 hours 4-10 hours 10-16 hours
Levemir Insulin Detemir 3/4 - 2 hours minimal peak action up to 24 hours
Lantus Insulin Glargine 2-4 hours no peak 20-24 hours

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