For people who need to take insulin, there are a couple of different types—long-acting, short-acting, rapid-acting, intermediate-acting, etc. That’s a lot of options!
One question I see most often is the difference between rapid-acting and long-acting insulins. So, let’s get into it.
What is rapid-acting insulin?
Rapid-acting, or meal-time insulin, is a type of insulin that’s usually taken before, during, or after a meal to lower your blood sugar levels associated with meals.
How long does it take rapid-acting insulin to begin working?
The onset of action varies between rapid-acting insulin products, but can begin working in as little as 5 minutes, or could take as long as 30 minutes, depending on the insulin.
The following are the typical onset of action times for each individual rapid-acting insulin products.
What is long-acting insulin?
Long-acting, or basal insulin, is a type of insulin that gives you a slow steady release of insulin that helps control your blood sugar between meals, and overnight.
How long does long-acting insulin last?
The duration of action varies between long-acting products but should last anywhere between 22-24 hours. The following are the typical duration of action times for each individual long-acting insulin product:
Do I need more than one insulin?
Maybe. It’s up to your doctor to determine the best medication regimen for you.
Some type 2 diabetes patients may only need to use a long-acting insulin to get their blood sugar control on track; whereas others may need a combination of meal-time and long-acting insulin to best control their blood sugar.
If you are using an insulin pump, you will only need to use a rapid or short-acting insulin. The pump is able to give you a slow and steady amount of insulin to cover you all day like a long-acting insulin would do. However, it’s a good idea to have a back-up of long-acting insulin on hand in case your pump should fail.
Is there anything in between rapid-acting and long-acting?
Yes. There are short-acting and intermediate-acting insulins available.
- Short-acting insulins are used like rapid-acting insulin to cover blood sugar elevation from eating.
- Intermediate-acting insulins are similar to long-acting insulins as they are used to cover blood sugar elevations when the rapid-acting or short-acting insulins finish working.
Are there any combination options available for those who don’t want to inject themselves so often?
Yes. Some insulin products combine fast and longer-acting insulins that work together to help manage blood sugar between meals and at night, as well as blood sugar “spikes” that happen when you eat. Here are a few examples of these:
- Humalog 50/50
- Humalog 75/25
- Novolog 70/30
- Humulin 70/30
- Novolin 70/30
- Ryzodeg (FDA approved but not yet available)
Combination insulin products typically only need to be injected twice daily since they are single insulin products that work in 2 ways.
Are there any insulin products that last longer than long-acting insulins?
Does all insulin need to be injected?
No. Currently, there’s 1 rapid-acting insulin product, Afrezza, that’s inhaled through the mouth.