Six Things You Need To Know About Insulin Pens For Diabetes

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For diabetes sufferers who are tired of the general cumbersomeness of injecting insulin via syringe or the hassle of maintaining a pump, you may have overlooked a convenient alternative: insulin pens. These devices are easier to handle and provide an accurate, exact dose every time. Whereas the European market for these devices is saturated, the North American market is expected to grow as more people switch to this method of insulin delivery.

Benefits over Traditional Methods

Many diabetes sufferers find pens preferable to the traditional syringe and plunger delivery method because pens are more accurate, simpler to transport, easier to use, and generally more accessible. Each pen holds a few hundred units of insulin, and many feature adjustable doses, ranging from a half unit as high as 80 units, depending on the model. Pens and cartridges have longer life spans than vials, and they are covered under most health insurance plans.

Brands and Formulae

Each specific pen is proprietary and designed to work with the type of insulin produced by its individual manufacturer. It is extremely important that consumers choose the pen that is compatible with the type of insulin that their personal conditions call for. The need for multiple types of insulin means that a person will need multiple, possibly different types of pens. Luckily, different brands of pens have different features to distinguish them and the type of insulin that they purvey. These distinguishing features include differentiating colors, textures, or uniquely shaped delivery knobs that help you to ensure that you don’t accidentally dose yourself with the wrong type of insulin. Pens may also have additional bells and whistles that users may prefer, such as an audible signal that tells them that a dose has been successfully administered, a digital readout recording the time and amount of their last does, or spring-loaded knobs for ease of delivery. As noted above, pens also feature an adjustable range so that users can fine tune their doses.

Refillable and Prefilled Pens

Brands and formulations aside, insulin pens fall into one of two categories: refillable and disposable. Refillable pens use prefilled cartridges. When one cartridge runs out, you can replace it with a full one and continue using the pen. Disposable pens are prefilled and only good for as long as their insulin lasts. Like cartridges, they are intended to be discarded once depleted. Obviously, each variety has its benefits and disadvantages. Both types of pens are more expensive than syringes, but a single refillable pen is logically more expensive than a disposable one. However, replacement cartridges for refillable pens are cheaper than new disposable pens. If you’re prone to misplacing things, then disposable pens might suit your needs better. Refillable models require a greater initial investment, but replacement cartridges are less expensive than replacement disposable pens. On the other hand, your needs change, your old refillable pen may not be compatible with your new type of insulin. Likewise, a better solution for your blood-glucose needs—and therefore another pen—might become available, in which case your old refillable pen is functionally obsolete for your purposes.

Insulin Maintenance

Insulin pens and, in the case of refillable pens, individual insulin cartridges should be refrigerated until opened and first used. After that, they can be kept at room temperature below 86 degrees. After their first use, pens and cartridges have variable lifespans; these should be clearly identified on the packaging or documentation that comes with the product.


Insulin pen needles are smaller, slimmer, and less painful than previous injection means. They are, however, intended for a single use, and certainly not for the life of the pen. Reusing them runs the risk of infection from non-sterile needles, lumps forming at injection sites and pain during injections, not to mention damage to the needle itself.


The first step is to prime the pen. After attaching the needle, but before inserting it into your skin, set the dose to one unit and discharge it. This will show you that the new needle is in good working order. If it is, set the pen to your required dosage. Hold the pen at a ninety-degree angle to the skin. Unlike with older injection methods, there is usually no need to pinch the skin. However, younger or leaner individuals may need to do so to ensure that the dose is delivered to the subcutaneous layer of fat. Leave the needle inserted for ten seconds to ensure that the dose is fully administered. If you’re interested in using insulin pens, you should speak with your diabetes care team and learn if the insulin you need is available in pens and cartridges. They will help you fully understand the device and ensure that it is the best choice for your needs.