If you’re always on the go and have diabetes, then you know traditional diabetes management methods don’t always make sense for your active lifestyle. If you find that syringes and insulin pumps don’t work for you, consider insulin pens for convenient and quick doses of insulin.
Pros and cons of insulin pens
Here are some of the pros and cons of insulin pens compared to administering insulin through other methods:
Insulin pens can make taking insulin more convenient because they combine the medication and syringe in one handy unit. Unlike syringes, pens come preloaded with insulin—including premixed insulins. They are fairly simple to use: simply twist or snap on a new needle, dial a dose, inject the insulin, and throw away the used needle into a needle-safe, sharps container. Certain insulin pens are disposable, so you can trash the pen once the insulin is gone or expired, while other pens can be reused once a new cartridge of insulin is inserted.
Many brands offer pens that are color-coded and use different designs to help you know which type of insulin you’re using at a glance. This makes the administration time faster than syringes and vials—and they’re more portable, too. Plus, some new models come with a digital application, to help you remember when you last injected insulin and how much was administered.
They’re also less obvious than a vial and syringe, so you can administer insulin discreetly in public.
Pens vs. Syringes: The convenience factor of insulin pens means they cost more than syringes. Talk to your insurance provider to see if and how much they’ll cover for insulin pens. Compare the costs of other diabetes management tools to see which one makes the most sense.
Pens vs. Pumps: Despite the benefits, a draw-back to using insulin pens (and syringes) is the need to administer insulin more often than if you were to use a pump. If you are particularly active and eat several times a day, you should consider the number of times a day you’ll have to administer insulin versus that of a pump, which doesn’t require shots.
Picking the right pen
Pens come in two basic types: disposable and reusable.
- Disposable pens are preloaded with insulin and are thrown away after the insulin cartridge is empty or the pen has been in use for 28 or 32 days (depending on insulin type).
- Reusable pens work with insulin cartridges that can be loaded into the pen and then tossed away once the insulin is used, leaving the pen ready for the next cartridge. Each pen only works with certain types of insulin, so keep that in mind as you browse pens.
Even though reusable pens are more expensive at first, replacement cartridges for reusable pens are cheaper than those for disposable, making them about the same price over the long term.
Another pen trait you may want to note when picking a pen is how it doses insulin. Some pens can dose in half-unit increments (for example, 1.5 units), while others dose in whole units. The maximum dosage of insulin that can be delivered at one time also varies among pens.
Don’t forget the needles
Once you’ve picked your pen, you’ll need a needle for the tip. Pen needles screw onto the top of an insulin pen. It’s good practice to change your needle after each injection or at least once daily. Fresh, sharp needles mean shots that are less painful.
Most brands of pen needles will fit any of the insulin pens. Pen needles come in different lengths—between 4 and 12 mm—and gauges (thickness of the needle).
A shorter needle is effective for all body types. You want to aim to deliver the insulin just below the skin without hitting the muscle beneath. When using a shorter needle, administer at a 90-degree angle and do not pinch up the skin. Very thin people and children may want to pinch up the skin and inject at an angle even with a shorter needle to avoid hitting muscle. Hold the needle in the skin for 5 to 10 seconds after you give the insulin so the medication doesn’t leak from the site.
A higher gauge means a thinner needle and less pain, while a thicker needle may be more painful—length shouldn’t really affect pain levels. If you inject a large dose of insulin at one time, a lower gauge (thicker) needle may make for quicker insulin delivery and help you to avoid medication leaking out of your skin.
Storing your pens
For unused pens, be sure to keep them refrigerated. For pens you’re currently using, keep those at room temperature. Extreme temperatures should be avoided altogether, so they should stay out of the freezer. Also avoid leaving them in places where the temperature can get too hot or cold, such as on a windowsill or in a car, too.