Diabetes Forecast

2012 Insulin Pens

By Erika Gebel, PhD

Consumer Guide Charts
A list of insulins
is available here.

With insulin delivery, it's nice to have options. Insulin pens combine an insulin vial and syringe into one portable device that many people find convenient. They're fairly simple to use: Just screw on a pen needle every time you inject (see Pen Needles note, below), dial in a dose, insert the needle under the skin, and press the injection button to deliver the insulin. Not all pens are the same, though, and a savvy pen shopper will want to consider these questions:

Does the pen contain the type of insulin I use?
Different pens are compatible with different types of insulin. So if you're already taking insulin, you'll need to pick a pen that works with the type you use. If you're taking more than one type of insulin, make sure the pens for each can be easily distinguished, so there is no mistaking one insulin for another.

Should I go with a reusable or disposable pen?
For some types of insulin, you'll have a choice between disposable or reusable. Disposable pens come prefilled with a cartridge of insulin and are stored in the refrigerator until use, then kept at room temperature after opening. When the insulin runs out, these pens can be discarded. Reusable pens, which should never be stored in the refrigerator, are loaded by the user with insulin cartridges that are purchased separately. The cartridges are kept refrigerated until they are loaded into the pen.

Does the pen allow me to fine-tune insulin doses?
Pens differ in both their dosing increments and the maximum amount of insulin that can be dispensed at a single time. People who are very sensitive to the effects of insulin, such as children, may want insulin doses in half-unit increments. Insulin-resistant people may benefit from pens that can dose in 2-unit increments or are able to dose more insulin at one time.

Safety Note
Insulin pens should not be shared with anyone, even if the needle is changed, because there is a risk of transmitting serious diseases such as hepatitis B.

Pen Needles
A new pen needle should be used for each injection. These disposable nubs screw onto the end of an insulin pen. They come in a variety of lengths (between about 4 mm and 12 mm) and gauges (the higher the gauge, the thinner the needle).

Generally, heavier people should use longer needles than thin people. If a lean person uses a longer needle, there's a risk of hitting muscle tissue. Conversely, if a heavy person uses a short needle, insulin may tend to leak around the site of injection, leading to incorrect dosing. Pinching up the skin before injecting insulin helps avoid these problems and is a good idea for anyone.

As for pain, a thicker needle may be more painful than a more slender one, but people's perception of pain varies widely. If you need high doses of insulin, a thicker needle is better. Pen needles should not be reused.



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