Managing diabetes often requires taking insulin shots throughout the day. Insulin delivery systems such as insulin pens can make giving insulin shots much easier. If you currently use a vial and syringe to deliver your insulin, switching to an insulin pen may make it easier manage your diabetes.
Insulin pens don’t eliminate the need to poke yourself with a needle. They simply make measuring and delivering your insulin less complicated.
Insulin pens deliver anywhere from .5 to 80 units of insulin at a time. They can deliver insulin in increments of one-half unit, one unit, or two units. The maximum dose and the incremental amount vary among pens. The amount of total insulin units in the cartridges vary as well.
The pens come in two basic forms: disposable and reusable.
A disposable insulin pen contains a prefilled cartridge, and the entire pen is thrown away when the cartridge is empty. Reusable pens allow you to replace the insulin cartridge when it’s empty.
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 type.
The needles on insulin pens come in different lengths and thicknesses, and most fit on all of the available insulin pens.
Talk to your healthcare professional to decide which pen is best for you.
Similar to vials of insulin, insulin pens do not require constant refrigeration once they’ve been opened. Insulin pens only require refrigeration before their first use. After its initial use, simply keep your insulin pen out of direct sunlight and in room temperature.
Insulin pens typically stay good for 7 to 28 days after the initial use, depending on the type of insulin they contain. However, if the expiration date printed on the pen or cartridge has passed, you should not use the insulin.
Each time you use your pen:
- Check the expiration date and type of insulin (if you have more than one type of pen).
- Check to make sure that your insulin is not clumpy and that your fast-acting insulin is clear and colorless.
- Roll the pen in your hands, and then gently tilt the pen if it is an insulin mix.
- Remove the pen cap and clean the top with sterile alcohol.
- Attach the needle to the pen. Use a new needle each time.
- Prime the pen, and then dial up the correct dose. Double-check the dose before you inject.
- Remove the cap and choose a clean site to inject. Hold the needle at a 90-degree angle, unless you are instructed to do otherwise by your doctor.
- Push the button to inject the insulin and wait 5 to 10 seconds to be sure all of the insulin has been absorbed.
- Remove the needle and dispose of it properly.
If you accidentally dial in too high of a dose, insulin pens give you the ability to fix the mistake quickly and easily. Some pens expel the excess insulin through the needle in such a way that it will not enter your skin, while others have an option to reset your pen to zero units and start over.
Insulin pens are a convenient option to help you manage your blood sugar levels. The pens are small and portable and come loaded with medication and a syringe all in one device, making them an ideal solution for people on the go.
Insulin pens are also simple and discreet to use — all you have to do is attach a new needle, dial the correct dose, inject, and dispose of your needle. You can also ask your doctor about disposable insulin pens which can be conveniently thrown away after each use.
Insulin pens are available in color-coded varieties to make it easy for you to tell what type of insulin you’re using. Some models — referred to as “smart” insulin pens — can even connect to smartphone apps via Bluetooth, which allows you to track your blood sugar levels on your phone and receive reminders about when to re-dose.
While there are plenty of benefits to insulin pens, their convenience comes at a price: Insulin pens are more expensive than traditional syringes. Be sure to talk to your doctor and insurance company about the cost of different diabetes management options if you’re interested in using an insulin pen.
Unlike insulin pumps, insulin pens require you to inject yourself and regularly administer insulin throughout the day. If you’re worried about staying on top of your blood sugar levels and injecting yourself multiple times a day, you might consider an insulin pump instead of a pen or syringe.
Note that insulin pumps aren’t necessarily less time consuming to use than insulin pens, as you still need to keep track of your carbohydrate intake and input this information into the pump to deliver your insulin dose.
How do I choose the right insulin pen?
When choosing an insulin pen, you’ll want to consider cost and convenience as well as your insulin dosing needs. You should always consult with your doctor before purchasing a pen.
While reusable pens are more expensive at first, the replacement cartridges they use are typically cheaper than disposable pens, which means they will be about the same price over time.
You should also consider how much insulin you need each day. Some insulin pens can dose insulin in half-unit increments while others use whole units. Additionally, different pens can deliver different maximum doses.
You should also consider needle length and thickness when choosing a pen. Needle thickness is measured using “gauge” — and the higher the gauge, the thinner the needle. While thicker needles might be more painful to inject, they will deliver insulin more quickly than thinner needles.
Can I carry an insulin pen while flying?
Yes. TSA rules specifically state that diabetes-related supplies, including liquids, are allowed onboard once they have been screened by X-ray or hand inspection. You should declare your insulin pen and other diabetes equipment and separate them from other items when going through TSA screening.
Always pack your medications in a separate clear, sealable bag and never place insulin in a checked bag as changes in pressure and temperature can affect it.
Where can I inject myself with my insulin pen?
Insulin is injected subcutaneously — underneath the fat layer under your skin. People who take insulin daily should rotate injection sites in order to avoid lipodystrophy, a condition where fat breaks down or builds up and interferes with insulin absorption.
You can use your insulin pen to inject yourself on your abdomen, thigh, or arm.
If you fail to check the condition or expiration date of your insulin, the insulin may not work correctly. Expired insulin does not work as well as insulin that has not expired.
If the insulin has any kind of particles in it, don’t use it. These particles may plug the needle and prevent you from delivering a full dose.
Dialing in too high of a dose or not double-checking the dosage may result in the delivery of too much or too little insulin. If this occurs, monitor your glucose levels closely after the injection. Too much insulin may cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low, and too little insulin may cause your blood sugar to increase to dangerously high levels.
Insulin pens are a popular and convenient blood sugar management tool for people with diabetes. They make it simple to measure and deliver insulin and are portable and convenient for travel.
If you’re interested in using an insulin pen, talk to your doctor to determine if it is a good method for you. Always follow all manufacturer instructions for your insulin pen and be sure to store it in a cool, dry place once open.