Types of insulin

In people without diabetes, there’s normally a low level of insulin in the blood. After a meal, the level of insulin increases to deal with the sudden increase of glucose in the blood that comes from the food or drink.

Different types of insulin are available for people with type 1 diabetes. They work for different lengths of time. By matching the type of insulin to a person’s needs, it’s usually possible to get a pattern of glucose control that is either similar to the normal pattern or that gives the same overall control of glucose levels. The main categories of insulin are:

  • rapid-acting insulin analogues: (an insulin analogue is a synthetic form of insulin made to be similar to human insulin, but with characteristics that affect how long it lasts in the body) rapid-acting insulin analogues aim to work like the insulin normally produced to cope with a meal; their effect falls away quickly
  • short-acting insulins: these work more slowly than rapid-acting insulin analogues, and their effect may last up to 8 hours
  • intermediate-acting insulins: these have an effect that lasts longer, and can even last through the night
  • long-acting insulin analogues: these have an effect that can last for a longer period, even a whole day.

A biphasic insulin is a mixture of rapid-acting insulin analogue or short-acting insulin together with intermediate-acting insulin.

It’s not possible to have insulin in a tablet form because it is destroyed by the juices in the stomach and intestine. So insulin has to be put into the body in a way that bypasses these, using injections or a pump.

From: Appendix A, Type 1 diabetes in children and young people. Understanding NICE guidance – information for the families and carers of children with type 1 diabetes, young people with type 1 diabetes, and the public

Cover of Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes: Diagnosis and Management of Type 1 Diabetes in Children and Young People.
NICE Clinical Guidelines, No. 15.2.
National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health (UK).
London: RCOG Press; 2004 Sep.
Copyright © 2004, National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health.

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