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Humulin is a product of biotechnology. Produced by special non-disease-causing bacteria in a laboratory, it is an exact replica of human insulin, the hormone that controls the body's use of sugar.

Humulin is administered by injection and is used to treat diabetes.

Both patients with "juvenile-onset" or IDDM and those with "adult-onset" or NIDDM forms of diabetes may require insulin to control the disease.

It comes in several different varieties: Humulin R is rapid-acting, and wears off within 4 to 12 hours; Humulin N is intermediate in onset and lasts up to 24 hours; Humulin L goes to work slowly and also lasts up to 24 hours; and Humulin U is ultra-slow and may persist up to 28 hours.

Humalog, a new brand of bio-engineered human insulin, is especially fast-acting and is prescribed for administration shortly before meals.

Your record of blood glucose measurements will help the doctor determine which type and what dose of insulin you need.

Side Effects and Interactions

The most serious side effect of any insulin is hypoglycemia.

If the dose of insulin is too high, if the patient misses a meal or waits too long to eat, if he is more active than usual or experiences an illness with vomiting or diarrhea, blood sugar may drop too low.

Symptoms may include sweating, dizziness, tremor, palpitations, inability to concentrate, hunger, restlessness, or tingling in hands, feet, lips, or tongue.

Humulin may be less likely to cause warning symptoms of hypoglycemia than other insulin, so the patient may need to be more alert to this possibility.

Low blood sugar is corrected with a food or drink that contains sugar.

Too little insulin can allow blood sugar to build up. Over a period of time, the condition, called "hyperglycemia," can upset the metabolic balance of the body and lead to acidosis.

Symptoms may appear gradually and can include drowsiness, flushing, thirst, lack of appetite and a distinctive odor on the breath.

If untreated, both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia can be deadly. Seek medical attention promptly.

Several medications tend to raise blood sugar or counteract the effects of Humulin. These include birth control pills, cortisone-like drugs, diltiazem, or diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide, postmenopausal estrogens, and thyroid hormones.

Smoking also reduces the effectiveness of insulin.

Drugs that can increase the impact of insulin include aspirin and other salicylates, excessive alcohol, and anabolic steroids (sometimes used by body-builders).

Beta blocker blood pressure pills may disguise the symptoms of hypoglycemia until it is advanced.

Pondimin (and possibly Redux) along with Nardil, Parnate, Eldepryl, and tetracycline antibiotics may tend to lower blood sugar.

It is possible that juniper berries may turn out to lower blood sugar; if so, they may interact with insulin. Close monitoring of blood sugar is advised.

Check with your physician and pharmacist regarding potential interactions of Humulin with any other drugs or herbs you take.

Special Precautions

Managing diabetes is a balancing act, with food, exercise, stress, pregnancy, and illness all affecting levels of blood sugar.

The type of insulin used and timing of administration also have a significant impact. Close communication with the physician is essential.

Taking the Medicine

Your doctor will advise you about the best timing and dose for your Humulin injection.

Always use the same type and brand of syringe and follow the instructions exactly.

Rotate injection sites as instructed. Do not rub your skin after injecting Humulin.

Humulin should be stored in the refrigerator but not in the freezer.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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