Insulin Types and Information
There are a number of types of insulin available. From rapid acting to long acting, from animal insulin through to analogue insulins. Insulin can be categorised by how the insulin is derived and how quickly it acts.
Forms of insulin
Animal insulin, as the name suggests, comes from animals. Human insulin is misleading as it doesn't, in fact, come from humans. Instead, human insulin is a laboratory made insulin.
Analogue insulin is a type of lab grown human insulin which is modified to affect how quickly or slowly it acts.
Speed of insulins
Each of these types of insulin can also be categorised by the speed at which they works. This is termed the action of the insulin.
Action of insulin varies from rapid acting insulins which can start to work almost immediately after being injected, through to long acting insulins which can keep working for up to a day, and some can last even longer.
In between, there are short acting and intermediate insulins.
There are a number of different types of insulin, ranging from laboratory made insulin to insulin which comes from animals. Different types of insulin also have different speeds and durations to help stabilise blood glucose levels. The insulin we inject comes from one of two sources.
The first source of insulin is insulin which is artificially grown in labs. This type of insulin, called human insulin is the most commonly used type.
The second type of insulin is animal insulin, which is taken from the pancreas of animals.
Analogue insulin is a form of human insulin in which the molecules are chemically altered so that the insulin works in a particular way.
By changing the molecular make up of insulin, the insulin can be made to act either more quickly or more consistently than other types of insulin. Animal insulin is derived from the pancreas of cows and pigs: Animal insulin tends not to be prescribed as a first choice of insulin but should be available if requested. Some people may choose to go onto animal insulin
Different types of insulin can have different durations of effectiveness. Rapid acting insulin tends to work over around 5 to 6 hours whereas long acting insulin can work for around 24 hours. It is useful to know the time period which the insulin acts over so you can plan your doses and account for any high or low blood glucose levels.
Check your own insulin’s patient information leaflet for how long it lasts, or consult your doctor if you need more information.
Mixed or combination insulins
Mixed or combination insulins are where a shorter acting insulin is combined with a longer acting insulin.
On the plus side, this can mean less injections and can help to make dosages simpler. The disadvantage though, is that premixed insulins allow for less flexibility with tailoring your doses.
Common insulin products in the UK include the following:
- Humalog: Humalog is an Eli Lilly product, with the active ingredient insulin lispro. It is extremely rapid-acting, and will typically begin to work within 15 minutes.
- Lantus: Lantus is a long-acting analogue insulin. Typically Lantus is administered to the body once every day.
- Levemir: Levemir is also a long-acting analogue insulin. Levemir tends to have a slightly shorter duration than Lantus and therefore it is often taken twice daily.
- Novorapid: The active ingredient in Novorapid is insulin aspart. When novorapid is injected, it is extremely fast-acting, and works rapidly to normalise blood sugar levels. It typically begins working after 10-20 minutes, and will last for between 3 and 5 hours.
- Actrapid: Novo Nordisk did produce Actrapid preloaded pens, cartridges and vials for the UK insulin market. However, due to commercial reasons they have discontinued both the pens and cartridges as from January 2006.
- Humulin: Humulin insulins are human insulins made by Eli Lilly & Co. Short acting, intermediate acting and premixed humulin insulins are available.
- Hypurin: Hypurin insulins are animal insulins produced by Wockhardt UK. They make short acting, intermediate and long acting insulins and are available in beef or pork insulin forms.
- Insuman: Insuman is another insulin type that comes in several different forms. Insuman basal is an intermediate-acting insulin with the active ingredient isophane insulin.
- Insulatard: Insulatard, manufactured by Novo Nordisk, comes in preloaded pens (Novojet, InnoLet, Flexpen), penfill cartridges and vials based around the active ingredient human isophane insulin.