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 to take your insulin and increase your compliance.

Insulin pens do not eliminate your need to poke yourself with a needle. They simply make measuring and delivering your insulin easier.

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 doctor or healthcare provider 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 a room-temperature setting.

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 five 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 your 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.

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.