Insulin is a hormone that treats diabetes by controlling the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. When used as a medication, it is derived from either pork (porcine), beef (no longer available in the U.S.), or is genetically made to be identical to human insulin.
People who may need insulin therapy include:
- People with type 1 diabetes (Insulin is the only medication that can be used to control the increases in blood sugar that occur with the disease.)
- People with type 2 diabetes (Insulin can be used alone, or in combination with diabetes pills or other injectable medications.)
- Women with gestational diabetes (Oral diabetes medications are not prescribed for pregnant women.)
What Types of Insulin Are Used for Diabetes?
There are many types of insulin used to treat diabetes. They are classified by how fast they start to work, when they reach their “peak” level of action (meaning when the concentration of insulin in your blood is highest), and how long their effects last.
The types of insulin include:
- Rapid-acting insulin starts working within a few minutes and lasts for a couple of hours.
- Regular- or short-acting insulin takes about 30 minutes to work and lasts for 3 to 6 hours.
- Intermediate-acting insulin takes 2 to 4 hours to work, and its effects can last for up to 18 hours.
- Long-acting insulin takes 6 to 10 hours to reach the bloodstream, but it can keep working for an entire day.
Your doctor will prescribe the insulin that’s best for you. It’s possible that you may need more than one type of insulin. It’s important to space your insulin doses throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels within the normal range despite eating habits and activity patterns.
There are other medications that can be used along with insulin therapy. If you cannot adequately control your blood sugar with insulin therapy alone, your doctor may prescribe an additional drug that mimics the hormone amylin, which is often deficient in people with diabetes. This type of treatment can be used for adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Non-Insulin Diabetes Treatment
There is a relatively new class of drugs called incretin mimetics, which mimic certain substances that can be found in the stomach and intestinal tract. These substances are normally released in response to food intake and signal the release of insulin from the pancreas. Since this reaction is reduced in people with type 2 diabetes, incretin mimetics work to stimulate insulin release and help lower blood sugar. Your doctor may recommend incretin mimetics if you have not been able to adequately control your blood sugar with other types of treatment. These medications are taken by injection, either once or twice a day.
For people with type 2 diabetes, medications called DPP-4 inhibitors can be taken alone or in combination with other diabetes medications. DPP-4 inhibitors prevent the breakdown of incretin hormones. In turn, the incretins can help your body produce insulin to lower elevated blood sugar levels.