What is insulin and what are the different types?


September 12th, 2023

What is insulin and what are the different types?

1. What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that lowers the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces very little or no insulin at all. All patients with Type 1 Diabetes will require insulin. Insulin is given as an injection under the skin.

The overall goal of treatment with insulin is to match the amount of insulin given with the amount of insulin a person needs throughout the day and night. Doing this means that blood glucose levels can be kept as close to normal as possible, which helps a person avoid both short- and long-term problems from diabetes. When you are first starting insulin, it will take some time to find the right dose. You will be asked to check your blood glucose level several times a day. Your doctor will use this information to help you adjust the dose over time.

The types of insulin you use and how much you need to take each day depend on your diabetes management plan. Some people with diabetes need to take two injections each day. Others may need several injections to keep blood glucose levels under control. Your doctor will help you decide what’s best for you.

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2. What are the different types of insulin?

Short acting
Short-acting insulin helps control blood glucose spikes that happen when you eat. It works quickly, but only for a short time. Exact time for short-acting insulin injection depends on your meal time. It is normally taken anytime between 30 minutes or just before eating, depending on the type of insulin you use.

Long acting
Long acting insulin works slowly and lasts for almost a full day. It regulates blood glucose levels between meals, keeping blood glucose levels stable throughout the day and night. It is often taken at bedtime. Exact injection time will depend on the type of insulin you use. Please speak to your doctor or nurse about this.

Intermediate acting
As the name suggests, intermediate-acting insulin lies somewhere in between short-acting and long-acting insulin. This type of insulin takes about one to three hours to start working. The optimal time for this type of insulin is 8 hours, but it can maintain blood conditions anywhere from 12 to 16 hours.

3. The importance of timing

You can’t “turn off” insulin once it’s been injected — it’s going to work no matter what — so you have to make sure you’re using the right amount at the right time. For example, if you eat later than usual because you are eating out with friends, you might need to hold off on your insulin injection, eat a small snack at your normal mealtime, and take the insulin later.

Sticking to an organized meal plan every day and getting regular physical activity — in addition to taking your medication — will help you keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range and will make it easier to know how much insulin to take. If you run into situations where you’re not sure how to adjust your insulin dosage to account for food or exercise, ask a parent or a member of your diabetes health care team.

Although you may do everything you’re supposed to, sometimes blood glucose is hard to control. For people with diabetes, there will be times when the amount of insulin they have taken will be too much or too little for the body’s needs, and the blood glucose level will be too high or too low.

A common problem among people who take insulin is low blood glucose, or hypoglycaemia. It can happen at any time, but is more likely if someone eats less or exercises more than usual. Hypoglycaemia is also more likely in the first few weeks or months after a person develops Type 1 Diabetes.

If your blood glucose goes too low regularly, it may mean that your insulin dose or meal plan needs adjusting. If this happens, contact your diabetes health care team. They’ll help you develop a plan to help keep your blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible.

3. Key Takeaways

For people living with Type 1 Diabetes, insulin is a life-saving treatment. This is why it is important for diabetics to not just know how and when to take insulin, but what type of insulin they would need to take in order to keep their bodies healthy and prevent any adverse effects from diabetes.


HelloType1 content is based on published, internationally recognised guidelines and then reviewed by local experts to ensure it fits local context. The translation is based on simplified English language to ensure it conveys the safest and clearest possible message in regional languages. Basic insulin and blood glucose testing access is still an issue in the South-East Asia region and our chief aim is to address this. HelloType1 content is not intended to replace the advice of individual healthcare professionals but as a collaborative tool to help them improve the outcomes of disadvantaged people with Type 1 Diabetes in the region.

HelloType1 content is curated for the topics using information only taken from accredited sources such as the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) and the International Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD).

This content is then reviewed and adapted by a panel consisting of healthcare experts (e.g. endocrinologist, nutritionist, diabetes nurse, psychologist) and members of the South-East Asia T1D communities, helping ensure the information is appropriate in a local context.

Writers of HelloType1 content:
Anne-Charlotte Ficheroulle, Pharmacist, Digital Innovation Manager at A4D
Charlotte O’Brian Gore, Research assistant ImmunoEngineering, King’s College. UK

Content Reviewers – healthcare professionals:
Dr. May Ng, Paediatric Endocrinologist, Chief Medical Advisor A4D, UK
Dr. Yeow Toh Peng, Endocrinologist, Malaysia
Dr Jaturat Petchkul, Paediatric Endocrinologist, Thailand
Dianna Culbertson, Physician Assistant T1D care, US
Prof Dr Malene Iv, Endocrinologist, Kantha Bopha Hospital, Cambodia
Steffen Tange, Consultant Psychology, Denmark
Soe Nyi Nyi, Nutritionist, Myanmar
Lucas Lim, Dietician, Malaysia

Content Reviewers – people with Type 1 Diabetes:
Jerry Gore, Co-Founder A4D, Mountaineer, UK
Diana Maynard, T1D advocate, UK
Emelyne Carmen Ho, College Student, Malaysia
Molly Seal, College Student, UK

Content Reviewers – parents with T1D child:
Samantha Seal, Teacher, Thailand
Kim Than, Deputy Country Director – Plan International, Cambodia

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