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Insulin A to Z: A Guide on Different Types of Insulin

Elizabeth Blair, A.N.P., at Joslin Diabetes Center, helps break down the different types of insulin and how they work for people with diabetes.

Types of Insulin for People with Diabetes

  • Rapid-acting:  Usually taken before a meal to cover the blood glucose elevation from eating.  This type of insulin is used with longer-acting insulin.
  • Short-acting:  Usually taken about 30 minutes before a meal to cover the blood glucose elevation from eating.  This type of insulin is used with longer-acting insulin.
  • Intermediate-acting:  Covers the blood glucose elevations when rapid-acting insulins stop working. This type of insulin is often combined with rapid- or short-acting insulin and is usually taken twice a day.
  • Long-acting:  This type of insulin is often combined, when needed, with rapid- or short-acting insulin.  It lowers blood glucose levels when rapid-acting insulins stop working.  It is taken once or twice a day.

A Guide on Insulin Types for People with Diabetes


Brand Name

(length of time before
insulin reaches bloodstream)
(time period when
insulin is most effective)
(how long insulin
works for)


10 - 30 minutes


30 minutes - 3 hours

3 - 5 hours

Short-acting Regular (R)

30 minutes - 1 hour

2 - 5 hours Up to 12 hours
1.5 - 4 hours
4 - 12 hours
Up to 24 hours

0.8 - 4 hours

Minimal peak

Up to 24 hours

To make an appointment with a Joslin diabetes nurse educator, please call (617) 732-2400.

Page last updated: October 25, 2016