Managing diabetes often requires taking insulin shots throughout the day. Today’s technology has brought about many insulin delivery systems—including insulin pens—that make giving insulin shots much easier. If you currently use an insulin vial and syringe to deliver your insulin, switching to an insulin pen may increase both your compliance to your insulin routine and the ease of taking your insulin shots.
How It Works
Insulin pens come in two basic forms: disposable and reusable. The disposable insulin pens contain a prefilled cartridge and are thrown away once emptied. Reusable pens require that you replace the insulin cartridge each time it is emptied. These pens do not eliminate your need to poke yourself with a needle; they simply make measuring and delivering your insulin easier. Insulin pens hold between 21 and 80 units of insulin at a time and can deliver insulin in increments of one-half unit, one unit, or two units.
Unlike vials of insulin, insulin pens do not require constant refrigeration. Insulin pens only require refrigeration until their first use. After the initial use, simply keep your insulin pen out of direct sunlight in a room temperature setting. Insulin pens typically stay good for use for 10 to 28 days after the initial use, unless you’ve passed the expiration date printed on the pen or cartridge.
The insulin pen you use depends on the type of insulin you require, the number of units you typically need per insulin shot, and the available pens for that insulin. Work with your doctor or nurse to figure out which pen is right for you.
Each time you use your pen, replace the disposable needle, mix your insulin, ensure your insulin looks right inside the pen, and dial in the insulin dosage you need to inject. Typically, you hear a clicking noise for each increase in insulin units, making insulin pens user-friendly for those with vision problems. The number of units dialed in also appears inside a window on the pen to allow you to double check your dose.
If you accidentally dial in too high of a dose, insulin pens give you the ability to fix your mistake quickly and easily. Some pens expel the excess insulin through the needle in a way that it will not enter your skin, while others have an option to reset your pen to zero units and start over.
Inject the insulin in a similar manner to the way you inject your insulin using a syringe: Press the button on your pen to disperse the insulin into the fatty layer under your skin. Hold the pen in place, with the button held in for 5 to 10 seconds to ensure all the insulin enters your skin.
Are There Any Risks?
If you fail to check the color of your insulin or the expiration date of your insulin, you risk injecting an inaccurate dose of insulin. Expired insulin does not work as well as insulin that is not expired. If the insulin has any kind of particles in it, do not use it. These particles may plug the needle and prevent you from delivering a full dose of insulin.
Dialing in too high of a dose and not double-checking the dosage may result in the delivery of too much insulin or too little insulin. If this occurs, monitor your glucose levels closely following the injection. Too much insulin may cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low; too little insulin may cause your blood sugar to increase to dangerously high levels.
The needle on insulin pens is much smaller than the needle you use for an injection with the syringe. However, you still risk slight bleeding or bruising at the injection site.
Other Uses For Insulin Pens
Insulin pens are only to be used with the exact type of insulin they are designed to administer. If you need two different types of insulin, you need to use two different pens.
What The Expert Says
“It is very important that patients and physicians have confidence in the accuracy of their chosen insulin pen,” says a study published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. “This is a prerequisite for good metabolic control, regardless of the pen type used.” The study found that some pens deliver less insulin than they are designed to administer. To help build your confidence in your pen and ensure your pen’s accuracy, regularly monitor your blood sugar level before each meal and at bedtime. If you feel that your pen regularly fails to deliver the proper amount of insulin, contact your doctor.