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Insulin Uses

How Does It Work?

Insulin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pancreas. This hormone is important for several functions, such as controlling blood sugar. Insulin helps the cells of your body remove glucose ("sugar") from your bloodstream. This sugar fuels your body's cells, giving them the energy they need to work properly. You may need to take insulin if your pancreas has trouble making enough insulin, which is the case in people with type 1 diabetes and in some people who have type 2 diabetes.
 
Even though it is made in a laboratory, standard, "regular" insulin is identical to the insulin produced by the human body. Over the years, scientists have developed ways to slightly change the insulin molecule to change the way it works in the human body. Some insulins are designed to start working quickly and to last only a short while. These are known as rapid-acting insulins, and they are used to control the increases in blood sugar levels after meals. Other insulins are designed to provide a steady, slow, background rate of insulin that lasts for a long period of time. These are known as long-acting insulins. There are also short-acting insulins and intermediate-acting insulins.
 

Can It Be Used in Children?

Insulin is used to treat type 1 diabetes in children. Although type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children, most children with type 2 diabetes will not need to take insulin (they are usually treated with diet, exercise, and oral diabetes medications).
 
While even young children can be taught the basics of blood sugar testing and insulin administration, most children require the assistance of a capable adult to safely control their blood sugar levels.
 

Off-Label Uses of Insulin

On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend insulin for something other than the uses discussed in this article. Using the drug to treat high potassium levels (hyperkalemia) is an off-label use for insulin.
 
People without diabetes sometimes abuse insulin (often in combination with steroids) in an attempt to enhance athletic performance. Even though you don't need a prescription for some types of insulin, it is very important that you use it only under your healthcare provider's supervision. Insulin is a potent and potentially dangerous drug. Taking too much can easily result in death (see Insulin Overdose). You should not take insulin to enhance athletic performance, as this can be extremely dangerous.
 
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