Humulin N vs. Novolin N: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD on May 20, 2016Written by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on May 20, 2016

Introduction

Diabetes is a disease that causes high blood sugar levels. Not treating your high blood sugar levels can damage your heart and blood vessels. It can also lead to stroke, kidney failure, and blindness. Humulin N and Novolin N are both injectable drugs that treat diabetes by lowering your blood sugar levels.

Humulin N and Novolin N are two brands of the same kind of insulin. Insulin lowers your blood sugar levels by sending messages to your muscle and fat cells to use sugar from your blood. It also tells your liver to stop making sugar. We’ll help you compare and contrast these drugs to help you decide if one is a better choice for you.

About Humulin N and Novolin N

Humulin N and Novolin N are both brand names for the same drug, called insulin NPH. Insulin NPH is an intermediate-acting insulin. Intermediate-acting insulin lasts longer in your body than natural insulin does.

Both drugs come in a vial as a solution that you inject with a syringe. Humulin N also comes as a solution you inject with a device called a KwikPen.

You do not need a prescription to buy Novolin N or Humulin N from the pharmacy. However, you do need to talk to your doctor before you start using it. Only your doctor knows whether this insulin is right for you and how much you need to use.

The table below compares more drug features of Humulin N and Novolin N.

Side by side: Drug features at a glance

Humulin NNovolin N
What drug is it?Insulin NPHInsulin NPH
Why is it used?To control blood sugar in people with diabetesTo control blood sugar in people with diabetes
Do I need a prescription to buy this drug?No*No*
Is a generic version available?NoNo
What forms does it come in?Injectable solution, available in a vial that you use with a syringe

Injectable solution, available in a cartridge that you use in a device called a KwikPen
Injectable solution, available in a vial that you use with a syringe
How much do I take?Talk to your doctor. Your dosage depends on your blood sugar readings and the treatment goals set by you and your doctor.Talk to your doctor. Your dosage depends on your blood sugar readings and the treatment goals set by you and your doctor.
How do I take it?Inject it subcutaneously (under your skin) into the fat tissue of your abdomen, thighs, buttocks, or upper arm.; You can also take this drug through an insulin pump. Inject it subcutaneously (under your skin) into the fat tissue of your abdomen, thighs, buttocks, or upper arm.

You can also take this drug through an insulin pump.
How long does it take to begin working?Reaches bloodstream two to four hours after injectionReaches bloodstream two to four hours after injection
How long does it work for?About 12 to 18 hoursAbout 12 to 18 hours
When is it most effective?Four to 12 hours after injectionFour to 12 hours after injection
How often do I take it?Ask your doctor. This varies from person to person.Ask your doctor. This varies from person to person.
Do I take it for long-term or short-term treatment?Used for long-term treatmentUsed for long-term treatment
How do I store it?Unopened vial or KwikPen: Store Humulin N in a refrigerator at a temperature between 36°F and 46°F (2°C and 8°C).

Opened vial: Store an opened Humulin N vial at a temperature less than 86°F (30°C). Throw it away after 31 days.

Opened KwikPen: Do not refrigerate an opened Humulin N KwikPen. Store it at a temperature less than 86°F (30°C). Throw it away after 14 days.
Unopened vial: Store Novolin N in a refrigerator at a temperature between 36°F and 46°F (2°C and 8°C).

Opened vial: Store an opened Novolin N vial at a temperature less than 77°F (25°C). Throw it away after 42 days.

Learn more: How does an insulin pump work? »

Cost, availability, and insurance coverage

Check with your pharmacy and insurance company for the exact costs of these drugs. Most pharmacies carry both Humulin N and Novolin N. The vials of these drugs cost about the same. The Humulin N KwikPen is more expensive than the vials, but it may be more convenient to use.

Your insurance plan likely covers either Humulin N or Novolin N, but it may not cover both. Call your insurance company to see if they have a preference for one of these drugs.

Side effects

Humulin N and Novolin N have similar side effects. The most common side effects include:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Allergic reaction
  • Reaction at the injection site
  • Thickened skin at the injection site
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Low potassium levels. Symptoms can include:
    • muscle weakness
    • muscle cramping

The more serious side effects of these drugs are rare. They include:

  • Swelling in your hands and feet caused by fluid buildup
  • Changes in your eyesight, such as blurry vision or vision loss
  • Heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure include:
    • shortness of breath
    • sudden weight gain

Interactions

An interaction is how a drug works when you take it with another substance or drug. Sometimes interactions are harmful and can change how a drug works. Humulin N and Novolin N have similar interactions with other substances.

Humulin N and Novolin N may cause your blood sugar level to get too low if you take either of them with the following drugs:

  • other diabetes drugs
  • fluoxetine, which is used to treat depression
  • beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure such as:
    • metoprolol
    • propranolol
    • labetalol
    • nadolol
    • atenolol
    • acebutolol
    • sotalol
  • sulfonamide antibiotics such as sulfamethoxazole

Note: Beta-blockers and other drugs used to treat high blood pressure, such as clonidine, may also make it difficult to recognize symptoms of low blood sugar.

Humulin N and Novolin N may not work as well if you take them with the following drugs:

  • hormonal contraceptives, including birth control pills
  • corticosteroids
  • niacin, a vitamin
  • certain drugs to treat thyroid disease such as:
    • levothyroxine
    • liothyronine

Humulin N and Novolin N could cause a buildup of fluid in your body and make your heart failure worse if you take either drug with:

  • heart failure drugs such as:
    • pioglitazone
    • rosiglitazone

Use with Other Medical Conditions

People with kidney disease or liver disease may be at increased risk of low blood sugar while using Humulin N or Novolin N. If you decide to take either of these drugs, you may need to monitor your blood sugar more often if you have these diseases.

Risks for pregnant or breastfeeding women

Both Humulin N and Novolin N are considered safer drugs to control high blood sugar during pregnancy. It is especially important for you to keep your blood sugar level under control while you are pregnant. High blood sugar levels during pregnancy can lead to complications such as high blood pressure and birth defects.

Talk to your doctor if you wish to breastfeed while taking Humulin N or Novolin N. Your doctor will likely adjust your dosage. Some insulin passes through breast milk to the child. However, breastfeeding while taking either of these types of insulin is generally considered safe.

Effectiveness

Both Humulin N and Novolin N are effective at helping to reduce your blood sugar level. Results from one study of Humulin N reported an average maximum effect at 6.5 hours after an injection. Novolin N reaches its maximum effect somewhere between four hours and 12 hours after you inject it.

Read more: How to give a subcutaneous injection »

What you can do now

Humulin N and Novolin N are two different brands of the same type of insulin. Because of this, they are similar in many ways. Here’s what you can do now to help figure out which one may be a better option for you:

  • Talk to your doctor about how much of either drug you should take and how often you should take it to get the best results.
  • Ask your doctor to show you how to inject each drug, using either the vial or the Humulin N KwikPen.
  • Call your insurance company to discuss your plan’s coverage of these drugs. Your plan may only cover one of these drugs. This may affect your cost.
  • Call your pharmacy to check their prices for these drugs.
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